“A Newbery Christmas”

"A Newbery Christmas" — Kimia Wood — Christmas story Christmas is…an interesting topic.

What do you think about when you hear the word? What does a “Christmas story” mean? It forms an entire genre of fiction…but defining that genre is in the eye of the beholder.

Besides which, for some of us Christmas has the deeper purpose of celebrating Christ – the Anointed One – the Eternal God taking on flesh and walking the earth in the form of a human.

This collection of “Christmas” stories, penned by fourteen different Newbery Award-winning authors, was interesting on a number of different levels. Not only did the tone and style change depending on the attitude of the author, but also their view of Christmas (and what it means) was remarkably varying.

So, what is a “Christmas story”?

The “Just So” Fable

Some of them recalled the roots of Christmas. Theses stories have the flavor of a “fairytale retelling” as they relate the basic story elements – Mary giving birth to a special baby in a stable – and sprinkle it with their own twists.

For instance: Mary giving birth without making a sound…animals being given the gift of speech so as to relate the events from a thousand years ago…and Catholic saints traveling through time and space to get a peek at the manger scene.

For some people, this is what makes a “Christmas story” — Saturday Evening Post-type nostalgia mixed with church traditions.

The “Santa” Paradigm

The Newbery Award is for children’s literature, so the stories in this anthology are naturally geared toward children.

Some children view Christmas solely in the context of the presents they get. Older children are usually concerned about the presents they give away, also.

A good author captures the attitudes and thoughts of her viewpoint character.

But there is a line between accurately portraying a child’s limited worldview, and structuring your narrative with only these materialistic elements that reenforce the limited worldview. Sometimes, that line is very hard to find.

Is a “Christmas story” about giving gifts? Is it about discovering that what you really, really want is not as important as what you need?

Perhaps. For some people, that’s what they mean by a “Christmas story”.

My Personal Favorite

My favorite story is the selection by Madeleine L’Engle (ironically enough).

While not an “orthodox” Christian, she does a good job giving readers a sense of the “true meaning of Christmas” (as the clichés call it). Not only does her story follow a family celebrating the holiday with church, food, and snow – it gives a realistic portrayal of Christians acting in a way consistent with the character of God: with love, grace, and peace in the face of unexpected stress.

What is a “Christmas Story”?

To borrow Andrew Klavan’s explanation, a “Christmas story” is the tale of a character exchanging their value set. As in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, when Ebenezer Scrooge exchanges his own value set (selfishness and money) for a more “heavenly” value set (generosity, legacy, and community) his motivation, actions, and lifestyle change.

He is transformed. He is a “man who learns better” because of the new values that descend on his life (and once he accepts them, his behavior changes).

This mirrors the original “Christmas” story, where our paradigms of self-centeredness, self-righteousness, and selfishness are confronted by God’s system.

That system being that we could do nothing to rescue ourselves, but God in His grace came down to earth (wearing human flesh and bone) and gave Himself to us…not only showing us the example for perfect love and kindness, but also making it possible for us to live in a way that pleases Him (through His Holy Spirit setting up shop without our own hearts and changing us from the inside out).

This strikes me as a good, understandable explanation of what makes a “Christmas story”.

Does something count as a “Christmas story” if it’s a peppermint-flavored romance set in December? According to this paradigm, only if they focus on the protagonist’s value set being exchanged for a “higher” one.

How about all the stories that wrap around a child getting exactly what they want for Christmas? Well…is the point that they don’t get what they want, but rather what they need? That focus on receiving a fresh values set would make it a Christmas story under this definition.

(For what it’s worth, Mr. Klavan says that Holly in Die Hard is in a Christmas movie, because the system she uses to evaluate and measure the world is challenged and replaced…but John from Die Hard is in an action movie, instead. Having never seen the movie, I can’t appraise his appraisal.)

But This is Actually a Review

What do you expect from a “Christmas anthology”? What are you looking to get out of it?

A couple of these stories are thought-provoking or emotionally resonant. A few of them are short and quippy, or more geared toward kids.

So…to resolve your itch for “Christmas genre” stories, or to give your kids something short and easy to read, it would work. Also works as a Christmas-themed coffee-table gift.

These stories probably won’t change your life. But it’s all a matter of expectations.

So, what does “Christmas” mean to you?


A Newberry Christmas features fourteen stories, by fourteen different Newberry-winning authors from Ruth Sawyer and Rachel Field to Lois Lenski, Eleanor Estes, and Madeleine L’Engle. It is edited/compiled by Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh.

It is available on Amazon.

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“Nomad of the Emirates” by E.B. Dawson

If we met aliens, could we relate to them?

This story is short, but still explores some fascinating concepts.

Earth has sent an emissary to the alien society called “the Emirates” – but a human is already living there. Is it possible the grass-roots free market has bested extensive government training at its own game?

The Opening

The narrator opens in the heart of an alien harvest, watching the new Earth emissary (the “Captain”) as she watches the harvesting operation.

However, we quickly jump into the narrator’s head, a cheerful, self-deprecating human who has forged a place for herself in this alien culture. Through her experienced eyes, we can plunge into this differently-colored world full of complex greeting ceremonies without losing our footing. Continue reading

“Coffee Cake Days” by Amanda Tero

"Coffee Cake Days" by Amanda Tero — Kimia Wood This story is short enough to read in less than an hour. It feels very much like a personal anecdote that just got written down.

Perhaps this is especially true because I could easily picture the homeschooling, Bible reading, five-children family where it took place. How well I remember those days doing school at the dining room table while toddlers played underfoot!

That’s Meg’s problem, too. Although she’s graduated, she wants to spend time in God’s word…but her chores and her siblings keep getting in the way.

Ever had something you wanted to do “for” God, but it seemed things kept not working out? Maybe you were working up to sharing the gospel with a coworker, who ended up being off that day? Maybe you were studying to be a missionary, but then your mother got sick and you had to take care of her? You might even wish you could give more money to charity, but the sickness of a child drains all your spare funds.

Meg has the same problem. She wants to be like Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus! Then why does life keep turning her into Martha, swallowed by cooking, cleaning, and serving? Desperate to read through and memorize more passages of Scripture, she steals moments here and there, and snaps at her family when they intrude on her devotional time.

Might her problem relate to our own?

My singular quibble is about the shortness of the story. Not that I think it needs to be longer; no, I loved being able to zip right through it, and all necessary details are included. But as a stand-alone file, many readers might be expecting more than this…especially if they’ve paid actual money for it. If I were the author, I might bundle this with some other, similar stories and charge for the collection…possibly even making this lone story perma-free to tempt people to plunge into the larger volume. That’s a marketing decision, and I can’t exactly claim expert knowledge of marketing principles.

To avoid making my review longer than the story itself, I’ll just say one more thing. The struggle between reading what God wants and practicing what God wants is real…in the same way that reading twenty Bible chapters and learning what those chapters have to teach you are two different things.

This story is an exploration of that…another little picture along the journey of life to prove we’re not alone in our struggles. Jesus taught in stories — well, here’s another one.

Read. Learn. Then apply. ‘Cause that last one is the part that always gets us…and is most important.


Disclaimer: I received a free ebook copy of the book during a promotion. I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise.

You can read my interview with the author here, or find more on her website here.

Coffee Cake Days is available on Amazon, and as of this reading was available to read free via Kindle Unlimited. The book includes a recipe for the coffee cake on the cover.

“The Reluctant Godfather” by Allison Tebo

 Cinderella doesn’t have a fairy godmother – but a fairy godfather. And he’s not old, frumpy, and cheerful…he’s young, grumpy, and prone to losing his temper.

For this fairy godfather, who only has two wards – the prince and a girl named Ella – it seems the perfect solution for them to fall in love and make each other happy, thus freeing him to devote himself to cake-baking for the rest of his life. But can he pull it off in just one ball?

This story caught my eye during one of the Indie Christian Author sales, and when I got the chance to pick up a review copy as part of the re-launch blog tour, I jumped on it.

TL;DR— I recommend this cute little story for anyone into romance, and anyone who’s been wishing someone would turn this classic fairy tale on its head. Continue reading

“Over the Waves” by Marianne Olson

 The year is 1918, and Joel wants to be a newspaper reporter – not a tailor in his father’s shop. When his mother decides to visit her family back in Sweden, Joel gets the chance to accompany her – and prove that he’s responsible enough to choose what he wants to do in life.

On top of the normal dangers of a steamer voyage, the Great War breaks out, stranding them on the wrong side of the ocean! Continue reading

“Twisted Dreams” by Morgan Elizabeth Huneke

"Twisted Dreams" by Morgan Elizabeth Huneke — Kimia Wood This short story opens with about as classic a “Sleeping Beauty: Chapter 1” as you could wish, with the interesting trait of being written from the viewpoint of the infant princess being christened (Liesel).

Chapter 2 rips us from the fairy-tale world “played straight” and shoves us into a sci-fi world, in the head of an imprisoned girl who shares the name but none of the memories (apparently) of the Sleeping Beauty princess. Very disorienting, and a little irritating.

While heavy on the romance, this story blends fairy tale, amnesia, high-tech, aliens with super-powers, and faith into an interesting little tale that pulled me in. Continue reading

“A Sidekick’s Tale” by Elisabeth Grace Foley

"A Sidekick's Tale" by Elisabeth Grace Foley — Kimia Wood — sidekick I wasn’t sure how to describe this book without spoiling it. So, I decided I could do worse than the author’s own book description:

Meredith Fayett needed to marry someone before the week was out or she would lose her ranch. It sounded simple, so ranch hand Chance Stevens agreed to take on the job, in spite of his friend Marty’s warnings that it could only lead to trouble. But even Marty, a loyal though opinionated sidekick, couldn’t have predicted the mayhem that ensues when his own eccentric relatives appear on the scene, dragging Chance, Marty, and Meredith into the latest skirmish in a long-running family feud. What follows is a hilarious tangle involving an emerald ring, a fearsome aunt, a scheming suitor, and a team of runaway mules—by the end of which Chance finds that even a marriage just on paper has its complications, and that it never hurts to have a good sidekick.

This story is made by the narrator. Humorous and deft with an apt turn of phrase, the first-person recitation makes this short story a breeze and a delight to go through.

Part of the fun is not knowing what could come next. In this regard, the Amazon description almost gives too much away. But as the narrator himself says, “It’s the little things.”

It’s the little social commentary on his family that Marty gives us while tied to a tree…or the grave advice he dishes out to everyone who doesn’t want it…it’s his descriptions of the fat, bald Justice of the Peace careening down a hill on horseback…it’s Marty’s voice that makes this book.

After all, as Marty observes, the story of a pretty young girl about to lose her ranch is as old as the hills. It’s the “sidekick” – and his rendition of events – that complicates this “marriage of convenience” story. And makes it more memorable in the process.

If you like laughing – if you like smart sidekicks, crazy families, and marriage arrangement complications…then this might be the perfect way to spend an afternoon or two.


DISCLAIMER: I received a free e-copy of this book by participating in the Indie Christian Authors Black Friday Sale. I was not required to write of review of any kind.

A Sidekick’s Tale can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

Find out more about the author on her Amazon and Smashwords pages.

“Bells of Paradise” by Suzannah Rowntree

"Bells of Paradise" by Suzannah Rowntree — Kimia Wood — fairytales The fairytales of modern times tend to be, well, modern. They are full of princesses in fluffy tulle dresses, and fairies with wimpy wings that wouldn’t lift a butterfly — and fairies that grant wishes to all and sundry without making any demands.

You would have to go to Andrew Lang or the Grimm brothers for the strange fairytale punishments of being rolled in a barrel of nails until dead – or to meet fay-people (cp. to “in a fay mood”) as grotesque and magical as a gothic cathedral – or to see the fairy food that can only be eaten at the forfeit of your soul.

And where could you find a hero as noble as he is faithful, who is drawn into the quest through no fault of his own – a romantic hero with a remarkably steady head on his shoulders – who ends the tale triumphant, unsullied, and glorified? No fairytale of modern craft would portray that, surely…heroes must be “flawed” to be “realistic”.

Ms. Rowntree has changed that. Continue reading

“She But Sleepeth” by Rachel Heffington

Peles Castle, Romania — courtesy of Gabi Jguma/Wikipedia

Sleeping Beauty is a set designer working for Hollywood. A Romanian gypsy casts spells of time-travel and death. An estranged royal couple mourn the loss of their only child. And the hunky love interest exhibits self-sacrificial love.

Yet, for whatever confluence of cosmic misdemeanors, all the raging richness of this story potential totally fizzled when it hit the dour surface of my consciousness. Continue reading

“Superheroes Aliens Robots Zombies” by Mark Boss

Junk Food for Zombie Lovers

SARZ-51kVl+YZFoL This book is like mind candy for the science fiction apocalypse lover. Zombies – quick, coordinated, and flesh-eating – mixed with aliens – small, big-eyed and green – and robots for a wild, active romp thru cliché and disaster-tales.

If only the violence weren’t so medically accurate…and if only the author had learned that “series” is not code for “serial”. Continue reading