“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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Best Video Games for Kids

I grew up on video games from my earliest childhood. Many of these I watched my dad play — in fact, we have a photo of my brother, not yet old enough to walk, sitting on Dad’s lap watching Warcraft III.

But I myself played my share of video games. You may scoff, but some of my fondest memories, the most enduring stories, breathtaking characters, and immersive experiences have come from games.

If you have kids, you want them to be encouraged, educated, and edified by the media they consume. This includes watching the books they read and the friends they play with.

Dare you let video games play a role in their development? If so, let me share with you the best and brightest games from my youth…the ones that taught me most, or touched me the deepest.

DISCLAIMER: CHECK YOUR OPERATING SYSTEM AND THE GAME’S SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS BEFORE BUYING ANY GAMES. After all, I’m not exactly a spring chicken…

Teaching Games

Admit it. We parents are duplicitous, and want to sneak little nuggets of knowledge into the things our kids think are just fun.

Sure, there are lots of games like this, some more recent or successful than others. But from my own vast childhood experience, these are my top picks:

Alphabet Express

Best Games for Kids — Kimia Wood

Image credit: mobygames.com

Do you know your alphabet? This game has a colorful scene for each letter, filled with colorful characters and hidden “H”, “L”, “Q”, or the like.

This “game” is simple, but entertaining. Clean and cheery, it’s also perfect for little kids.

The Blaster Games

Blatant educational content has a name. In my childhood, it was Science Blaster Jr., Math Blaster Jr., Reading Blaster, and Math Blaster (Ages 6-9).

There are many more in the series, as I learned from the walkthroughs on YouTube. (A walkthrough for a kids’ educational game? That’s like taking a Dr. Seuss book, designed to get kids to read, and making it into a movie! Ya dig?)

Best Games for Kids — Kimia Wood

Image credit: EliSoftware.org

Meet Spot, G.C., and Blasternaut – my first self images. Spot is also my first game crush; he’s the cute little blue robot. I even have a notebook featuring a pictogram story about them.

These bright characters introduced basic science facts, easy math, and reading puzzles to us youngsters on their spaceship full of mini-games. Not so arduously academic as my exposure to Reader Rabbit, and not so story-driven as the Humongous games, the Blaster games hit a sweet spot of fun and function.

Be careful playing the Big Kid game, though: Math Blaster Ages 6-9. It features Gellator – the Brain-Drainer…an evil yellow ooze-being who kidnaps Spot and terrified my five-year-old self. To the point that I would never play the actual story-line, only test mode.

Ah, kid fears. 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

“Poison Kiss” by Kendra E. Ardnek

Poison Kiss by Kendra Ardnek — Kimia Wood — fairytale You must pick up a fairytale with open eyes. The well-worn road to fairyland is practically paved with princesses, curses, and talking cats. Yet for those not too “grown-up” to venture into the land of fairies, ogres, and millers’ sons, Poison Kiss offers a quick, entertaining read that delivers exactly to genre.

Everyone’s heard of the “Sleeping Beauty” story, so when the king hears that his daughter is to fill the role in the next cycle of the tale, he deliberately snubs the evil fairy and prepares to ban all spinning wheels.

When the fairy responsible for the curse brings originality to the course of events and switches the cure for the curse, the horrified kingdom is left to fear “love’s first kiss” – and wonder how a spinning wheel will help reverse the whole thing. Continue reading

Get To Know Author Priscilla J. Krahn

Get To Know Author Priscilla Krahn — Kimia Wood — InterviewToday I get to share my very first author interview – starring Priscilla J. Krahn! This was a new experience for me, and it was great fun to get to know a like-minded author. Please join me in welcoming her!

Interview Q&A

What made you decide to be an author? What encouragements have you had along the way?

I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I’ve dreamed of being an author for as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t until one of my big brothers told me that I would never get published that I decided I was going to become an author! Once I decided that I wanted to write, my mom was the greatest encouragement. She never discouraged me and always made sure I didn’t give up. I would NEVER have gotten my first book published, if it hadn’t been for her. Continue reading

Top Ten Best Books for Children to Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly list event created and hosted by the Broke and Bookish blog. Today’s theme is “Top Ten Books I Want My Future Children to Read”.Top Ten Best Books for Children to Read — Kimia Wood — books

Perfect! I’m approaching the time of life when this consideration is important, so here are the books that will be important for me to share with my children (should they ever appear). From picture books, to chapter books, to read-alouds, here are fun and timeless reads for kids of all ages! Continue reading

“The Gifting” by K.E. Ganshert

51p0AaVTZpL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_ Young adult juv. fic. ‘Nough said. There are other elements to this book – such as family relationships, sibling affection, paranormal visions, prophetic dreams, fantastical life-and-death struggles, romance – but in the end the teenage angst largely overshadows the more mature touches. Continue reading

“Blast of the Dragon’s Fury” by L. R. W. Lee

51wAXs0thzL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ An average gradeschooler is literally sucked out of his house into a magical kingdom where he becomes an honored guest – and their only hope for reversing a centuries-old curse. Adventures and gimmicks ensue.

After chapter 2, this kid fantasy picks up, making it enjoyable, if not extraordinary.

UPDATE: I understand from the author that a revised edition of this book has been published. Continue reading

“Kate Walden Directs: Bride of Slug Man” by Julie Mata

kate waldenBSMcover This story about a middle-grader with a passion for making movies is accessible to people of any age or any interest, and is an engaging, fun read.

Kate Walden is a seventh grader with dreams of a Hollywood director career. She’s already made one movie, and is determined to make a second. However, a new boy moves into her school and decides to make a movie, too. From there, the complications mount as she strives to show up the newcomer while scrounging for actors, props, and locations…and dealing with bullies and friend-issues. Ah, the simplicity of middle school. Continue reading