Great Christmas books for the young at heart

First aired on On the Island (4/12/12)

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Dickens's classic A Christmas Carol is probably the most famous holiday story. But there are many more. Sarah Harrison, children's librarian at the Greater Victoria Library's Saanich Centennial branch, recently shared some of her favourites with On the Island. She spoke to host Gregor Craigie onstage at the Belfrey Theatre in Victoria.


Harrison pointed out that there are many different versions of A Christmas Carol. "It's been turned into a romance, it's also been turned into a mystery. It's been illustrated for the very young, and also for teenagers and adults," she said, adding that there has been a story about Tiny Tim as a teenager, and the supernatural element of the original "has morphed into vampires, and zombies." These re-imaginings of the classic tale help bring the story to new audiences, she said.

Harrison cited a graphic novel from the Classics Illustrated series, called Scrooge, adapted by Rodolphe Meyrand and illustrated by his wife, Estelle Meyrand, and A Christmas Carol, a picture-book illustrated by Brett Helquist.

As for other holiday stories that have stood the test of time, at the top of her list was How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss's classic 1957 tale. (The film adaptation of the book, which is a classic in its own right, airs tonight on CBC-TV at 8 p.m., 8:30 p.m. NT.)

Harrison also mentioned The Night Before Christmas, an American poem from about 1923, which has been attributed to Clement C. Moore. "This poem helps to define the character of Santa," she said. It has been widely republished and revised. In fact, some elements of the story -- sections about him smoking his pipe, for instance -- have been removed. Santa has been sanitized, she joked, but as yet they haven't addressed "his weight issue."


Another seasonal favourite is The Polar Express by Chris van Allsburg, published in 1985. "This is the story of a little boy who gets to ride a magic train up to the North Pole on Christmas Eve," Harrison said. "Santa gives him a present, it's a bell from the sleigh, and when he returns home, his mom thinks it's broken , that it doesn't work, but only the young at heart can hear the ringing of the sleigh bell."

She went on to describe a new book that she believes should become a classic. Pete the Cat Saves Christmas was written by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean. "Pete is already a well-known character in children's literature, and his message is just so delightful," she said, quoting Pete. "I might be small, but at Christmas we give it our all, we give it our all."

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