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Christmas is a time to remember the Christ Child and to read his sweet story in St. Luke. It’s also a time for families to draw closer, to share moments of peace and love. One way to build the Christmas spirit and to strengthen family bonds is to read together. Each year I compile brief reviews of as many new books as possible. There’s sure to be a new favorite somewhere in this year’s collection.
THE CHRISTMAS DOLL by Jason F. Wright, Illustrated by Howard Lyon
In The Christmas Doll Jason F. Wright tells a true story from the life of Gail Saxton Miller, owner of the Utah Jazz NBA team, a child of poverty who became a billionaire businesswoman.
When Gail was a little girl in the 1940s her family struggled to meet expenses. Christmas gifts were sparse and Gail wore hand-me-down clothes and received few items that were new. To make ends meet her parents rented out part of their small home. One memorable Christmas Gail received a beautiful new doll. It became her constant companion and most prized possession. In time the doll became worn and ragged, then to her astonishment Gail received another beautiful new doll. It was many years later she learned of the love, generosity, and sacrifice behind those dolls. In the process she learned Christmas isn’t just about beautiful, shiny new things; it’s about the miracle of Jesus who makes old things new, revitalizes our lives, and brings out the best in humankind.
The story is brief and the illustrations are beautiful. They teach a simple story of Christ’s ability to make old things new and make all his creations beautiful once again.
Jason F. Wright is a well known writer. His work has appeared in numerous publications. He and his wife are the parents of four children. They make their home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
Howard Lyon hails from Mesa, Arizona. He studied art in Italy, France, and New York. He has worked in the video game industry. He and his wife now live in Utah. They are the parents of three children.
THE CHRISTMAS DOLL by Jason F. Wright, Illustrated by Howard Lyon, Published by Shadow Mountain an imprint of Deseret Book, 32 pages, hard cover $17.99.
A LITTLE CHRISTMAS PRAYER by Joni Hilton
A poor family is forced to leave their humble home when the father dies. His wife is crippled and unable to walk. The family, which consists of Pavo, his mother, and two very small sisters strike out on their own with only a small wagon pulled by the boy, not knowing where to go. The young boy shelters his family from the rain under a bridge and the partial shelter becomes their home. He sweeps walkways and runs errands for people in the nearby town for a bit of food or coin. The family lives under these circumstances for several years. He hears about people going to church and longs to be able to travel to a larger village to attend a church. Then the year Pavo turns ten his mother makes two small gifts for the two little sisters and gives Pavo two coins she had managed to save so he can take the bus to the town where the church is located. Riding on the bus is an exciting adventure. At the church he isn’t the only one listening to the prayers of the people. Then it is his turn to pray. The king hears the prayers and is impressed by the boy who asks for nothing, but simply gives thanks for the little he has and the wonderful bus ride.
This is a sweet, simple story about gratitude. Its short length makes it a perfect Family Home Evening read for winter evenings leading up to Christmas.
Joni Hilton is the author of 25 books, a playwright, a weekly columnist for Meridian Magazine and a writer for Music and the Spoken Word. Her career has included being a TV talk show host and she is a popular speaker.
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A LITTLE CHRISTMAS PRAYER by Joni Hilton, Published by Covenant Communications, 18 pages, soft cover $3.49. Also available for eReaders.
STORIES OF THE HEART by Jewel Adams
Christmas is a busy time, a time when many people, particularly young mothers, have little time to read full length novels. Yet Christmas is a time when stories add greatly to the holiday spirit. Jewel Adams has written a delightful collection of Christmas short stories. Some are only three pages. Others are slightly longer. These are stories of faith, love, and hope the whole family will enjoy. The stories are set in different time periods, different locations, and each tells a story that will touch the hearts of readers (or listeners).
Jewel Adams is a talented independent writer with many books to her credit. She and her husband are the parents of eight children and a growing number of grandchildren. They live in Utah.
STORIES OF THE HEART by Jewel Adams, Published by Jewel of the West Publishing, 80 pages, soft cover $6.99. Also available for eReaders.
THE TRAVELER AND THE HEAVY BURDEN by Deborah Rowley & Sarah Newell
A woman travels down a long road. On her back is a burden far too heavy for her to be carrying. Just when she’s about to give up she receives a word of encouragement, an acknowledgement of her worth. Kind strangers encourage her along the way until she find the one who can offer greater peace and comfort than she ever imagined.
For those seeking respite from the pains and heartache of life, this profound tale of one broken traveler’s journey is a powerful reminder of the love of the King of Kings, who is waiting with open arms to offer strength, love, and relief.
Deborah Pace Rowley has a great love for England and the world of classical writers. She hopes to inspire others with her own stories and those of the writers she loves. Sarah D. Newell illustrated this short story. She is passionate about enhancing great stories through her work.
THE TRAVELER AND THE HEAVY BURDEN by Deborah Rowley, illustrated by Sarah Newell, Published by Covenant Communications. 64 pages, hard cover.
THE DRUMMER BOY by Calie Schmidt, Illustrated by Alycia Pace
A little boy, the son of a shepherd, works hard every day helping his father care for the sheep. He has no time to play, but one day he accompanies his father to the market where he falls in love with a drum. He has no money to buy it and returns home without it. Later he is surprised to find the drum beside his bed. He spends many happy hours playing the drum for the other shepherds and for the sheep. One day a weary couple comes. They are expecting a baby, but there is no room for them at any of the inns, but a kind innkeeper sends them to a stable near where the boy and his family live. That night he sees a great star in the sky and knows the baby born to the young couple is the Special Child prophets foretold would come. He wants to give the child a gift, but the drum is all he has. When he attempts to give it to the Baby, the young mother tells him to keep the drum, but use it to play a song for the child. This he does, softly and sweetly.
This is a cute story children approximately five to eight will enjoy. Both the art work and the poetic story will help young children learn of true giving.
THE DRUMMER BOY by Calie Schmidt, illustrated by Alycia Pace. Published by CFI, an imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc., 32 pages. Hard cover $15.99. Also available for eReaders.
OH, CHRISTMAS by Sam Beeson, Illustrated by Emily Pritchett
Oh, Christmas is primarily a picture book where the pictures tell the story which are enhanced by one or two words. It is divided into two sections with the first depicting Christmas scenes of today. The simple one word captions such as burden, family, gifts, and no room are terms most people are familiar with from the original Christmas story. Those words are repeated with apt illustrations in the second part of the book with its illustrations of the events surrounding Christ’s birth.
The art work is bold and will appeal to young children. The comparisons will be recognized by all ages.
Emily Pritchett grew up in western New York, attended BYU, and currently lives in Massachusetts.
OH, CHRISTMAS by Sam Beeson, Illustrated by Emily Pritchett, Published by Cedar Fort, Inc., 32 pages. Hard cover $15.99
REMEMBER TREE by Stefanie Hohl Illustrated by Wes Wheeler
Written in the voice of a little girl who is given a wooden box by her grandmother. The grandmother explains that the box contains a hand carved pine tree given to her by her father. There are also six carved decorations plus a special seventh one. Each ornament is wrapped and accompanied by a brief hint as to what the ornament might be. After reading the hint the girl guesses what the ornament is, then hangs it on the tree. Next comes a short explanation of the ornament’s connection to the birth of the Christ Child.
This delightful Christmas book does great as a reminder of the birth of the Christ Child and serves as a reminder also of our own past Christmases and of the people we love.
REMEMBER TREE by Stefanie Hohl, Illustrated by Wes Wheeler, Published by Cedar Fort, Inc., 32 pages, hardcover $16.99.
THE LAST MAN AT THE INN by R. William Bennett
The Last Man at the Inn, One Man’s Quest to Believe by R. William Bennett is a touching retelling of the birth and life of Jesus Christ from the viewpoint of a man who was nearby when the Savior was born. He saw the infant in a manger, shepherds kneeling at the cave entrance. Simon, a spice merchant, travels the same roads and visits the same cities as Jesus. He hears the stories, wonders and questions, but dismisses them until his family become believers. At first his quest is merely intellectual curiosity, then faith begins to grow. There are setbacks and moments of disillusion, but there are also those moments that touch his soul. Finally he reaches that surety that enables him to willingly give all for the Messiah.
Though Simon’s story is fiction, it is culturally and historically accurate concerning the time and place of events portrayed. Many stories have been written concerning the birth and life of Jesus Christ, but this is one of the most endearing I have read. It carefully incorporates many of His teachings, not as sermons, but as the day to day actions of ordinary people. It details beautifully the steps one must take to gain a personal testimony.
From a literary view point, the characters are realistic and believable. Dialog feels natural. The story has a strong beginning and continues from one climactic event to another, each growing stronger, until the dramatic crucifixion scene, followed by the resurrection and rebirth of Simon’s inner self.
The Last Man at the Inn is a powerful Christmas book, but could equally be considered an Easter book. How could one be separated from the other?
R. William Bennett was born in New Jersey. He and his wife now live in Utah and are the parents of four adult children. He attended Lafayette College and spent over thirty years in business.
THE LAST MAN AT THE INN, One Man’s Quest to Believe by R. William Bennett, Published by Shadow Mountain, 208 pages, hard cover $17.99. Also available for eReaders and on Audio (MP3).
ALL HEARTS COME HOME FOR CHRISTMAS by Sarah M. Eden, Anita Stansfield, Hatch, Esther Joanna Barker
All Hearts Come Home for Christmas is a collection of four Regency Romance novellas.
1) Christmas at Falstone Castle by Sarah M. Eden tells the story of a Dowager Duchess who travels to her son’s estate to spend Christmas with his family. Her marriage had been strained and unhappy and she had seriously neglected her son. Now she hopes to make amends and establish a new relationship with him and his young family. The widowed local vicar decides to help and with the aid of a Christmas miracle there are double chances for love.
2) The Heart of Christmas by Anita Stansfield. A lonely seamstress has little hope for happiness in her life until a widowed banker appears in her life. A few thoughtful actions on each of their parts and a bit of Christmas spirit guide a broken family to love and healing.
3) ‘Tis the Season to be Daring by Esther Hatch. Elizabeth Davenport’s mother is determined to catch a titled husband for her daughter. Elizabeth just wants to chuck the balls and social parade altogether. She hatches a scheme to seek help from Lord Hawthorne who has made it clear he’s not interested in marriage or society’s rules. As they flaunt her mother’s and Society’s rules, they find there’s more than Christmas magic entering their hearts.
4) The Christmas Dress by Joanna Barker
Nell Addington is delighted when Jacob Hammond commissions her to design and sew a Christmas dress for his sister. They were all three friends as children, but the Hammonds suffered from an abusive father and the Addingtons fell on hard times. Jacob ran away to live with a relative until his father’s death left him in charge of the estate and his timid sister. Nell happily renews her friendship with them. An unexpected snowstorm and a jealous woman lead Nell and Jacob to their own Christmas miracle.
All four stories are light, enjoyable reads that Regency Romance readers will find perfect for those needed breaks from their hectic pre-Christmas schedules.
ALL HEARTS COME HOME FOR CHRISTMAS by Sarah M. Eden, Anita Stansfield, Esther Hatch, and Joanna Barker. Published by Covenant Communications, 304 pages, soft cover $14.75. Also available on Audio CD and for eReaders.
CHRISTMAS ACTIVITIES FOR LATTER DAY SAINT KIDS by Mike Collins
This small activity book for young children is just right to tuck in a purse or bag for when children get restless during church or to reinforce the concepts taught in family home evening concerning the birth of the Christ Child. Each page tells a piece of the nativity story and provides a puzzle or a picture to color.
Three more activity books by this same author; What Doesn’t Belong, The Creations of Heavenly Father, and I Have a Testimony would make great stocking stuffers.
Mike Collins grew up in Arizona, attended Brigham Young University and Arizona State University. He and his wife are the parents of five children and they now make their home in Utah.
CHRISTMAS ACTIVITIES FOR LATTER-DAY SAINT KIDS by Mike Collins, Published by Walnut Springs Press, 32 pages, soft cover $6.99.
Books are a popular Christmas gift each year. A few I would like to recommend are any I’ve reviewed for Meridian Magazine this past year, particularly Entangled by Stephanie Black, Clair M Poulson, Gregg Luke, and Traci Hunter Abramson. Also The Heart of the Rebellion by Sian Ann Bessey. If you’re looking for a delightful stocking stuffer for one of the ladies on your list any of the compact Inspirational Quotes for Women books will be great. Their titles are The Power of Gentleness, Lift Up Your Heart, Be Believing, and Consider the Lilies. Each of these four books is filled with quotes from Church leaders, historical leaders, and scriptures plus beautiful art work by Mandy Atkin. Inspirational Stories for Young Women is a book that will delight a teenage girl. If movies are your thing, check out A Candle in the Window based on a true story by Michele Ashman Bell. Don’t overlook a fantastic art book Come Unto Me by Brad Wilcox, Gayle Holdman, Tyler Griffin, Snthony Sweat and Tom Holdman and Tom Holdman.