“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

“The Book of Were-Wolves” by Sabine Baring-Gould

It’s easy to “poo-poo” were-wolves as superstitious just-so stories, invented by our ignorant ancestors.

Baring-Gould, while not convinced human beings physically transform into wolf bodies, nevertheless has taken a scholarly, detailed, and anecdote-filled look at this phenomenon. Along with his scientific, 18th-century respect for facts, he brings the Christian insight into human nature to his subject (he’s more famous for writing Onward Christian Soldiers).

The resulting book is fascinating, profound, and sometimes disturbing…both by what it says about were-wolves, and by what it says about ourselves. Continue reading

The “Blackwell” Bundle

In an attempt to recapture the gaming experience of Gemini Rue, I hunted through its developer’s catalogue. The Blackwell series caught my eye, and I took advantage of a sale to snag the bundle (because who buys anything at full price?!).

TL;DR for the series? It’s not as amazing as most of the other puzzle games I’ve played, but it was definitely worth some #SiblingTime.

The premise: Rosangela Blackwell’s life turns upside-down when she discovers she’s a medium and inherits a spirit guide from her aunt. Her guide – the saucy ghost Joey – teaches her of her mission in life: helping spirits come to terms with their death and “move on”.


Not my usual genre at all…but half of “paranormal detective” is detective, right? Continue reading

“Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott

"Ivanhoe" by Sir Walter Scott — Kimia Wood Published in 1819, if you’re looking for some honest-to-goodness, played-straight, exhaustively researched yet swashbuckling-fun story of medieval chivalry and derring-do, you could do worse than Ivanhoe.

Set in the 12th century – during that period of time made famous by every rendition of Robin Hood, when the head-strong and vivacious King Richard was out of the country, and the unpopular Prince John ruled in his stead – Ivanhoe explores racism, classism, male-female tensions, concepts of chivalry, and religion, all mixed with enough action and entertaining turns of phrase to keep the pace going. Continue reading

“Purple Fish” by Mark O. Wilson

 TL;DR: If you need another kick in your Jesus-sharing pants, or if you’d like to read some examples of evangelism from the “more Pentecostal” side of the church-spectrum, it’s worth a look.

As the third book on evangelism I’ve read this year, Purple Fish seemed to depend more on pithy quotes from other writers than the previous books. The outline for the book was also less clear than what I’d read previously.

Fisherman’s Guide to Sharing the TRUTH

The title comes from the idea of hunting for purple shell-fish — the ingredient used in the ancient world for purple dye, an expensive commodity for emperors and senators.

Pastor Wilson urges us to view lost people as “purple fish” — just like Jesus came all the way to earth to hunt after his treasured children, we should go “fishing for men” with the same passion. Continue reading

“Good News for a Change” by Matt Mikalatos

"Good News for a Change" by Matt Mikalatos — Kimia Wood Who doesn’t like good news? That’s the premise of Mr. Mikalatos’ new book, which is all about improving our conversations so that when we tell people about Jesus, it actually sounds like good news to them!

This book was challenging, encouraging, and convicting all in one, and I hope to use its principles in all my interactions, not just those times where I’m talking about God. Continue reading

Marriage Advice for a “Golden” Relationship

Today is my parents’ “golden anniversary”, meaning that they’ve been married for 29 years and it’s the 29th of July.

Marriage Advice for a Golden Relationship — Kimia Wood

After observing them for some time, I’ve gleaned these pieces of marriage advice from their relationship:

How to Be “Happy to Be Stuck With You”

Put Jesus at the center.

Marriage Advice for a Golden Relationship — Kimia Wood

“I gave up my life in your place. Now you do the same for your wives.”

My parents weren’t married “young” in the sense that they were still teens, but they were definitely younger than they are now (truism!). Not only were their personalities and ideologies still developing, but the Holy Spirit hadn’t done as much renovation in their lives as He has at this point.

People who become entangled in relationships at a very young age can find that, as they grow and mature, they aren’t so compatible as they once were. The best example off the top of my head is the protagonist from God’s Not Dead and his girlfriend. (My brother can hate me for mentioning it if he wants.)

Those two started the relationship before they really had to live their faith in a way that challenged them. When the guy tried to follow God in the direction he felt called, the girl refused to go that direction – and split.

If you are a Christian, you have to make sure your life-partner is a Christian, too. If both of you have the Holy Spirit living inside you, teaching you want God wants, then no matter how you each change other the years you’ll be pulling in the same direction. You’ll both be yoked to the same Master. Continue reading

“The Janson Directive” by Robert Ludlum

"The Janson Directive" by Robert Ludlum — Kimia Wood What is the cost of peace?

Robert Ludlum is most famous for The Bourne Identity, a spy thriller that inspired several sequels and movie adaptations. But in The Janson Directive, he has recaptured the magical combination of pulse-pounding thriller mixed with deeper psychological themes.

If you’ve got the stomach to get through it, of course. Sometimes the cost of peace is high. Continue reading

Be a Dog Not a Cat

Be a Dog Not a Cat

Dog and cat – the eternal dichotomy of the first world (since we can’t talk about men and women anymore).

There’s an old joke that goes like this:

The dog says, “You feed me; you shelter me; you play with me; you care for me…you must be God!”

The cat says, “You feed me; you shelter me; you play with me; you care for me…I must be God!”

We take an extreme example to make a point – and the point is this: Decide to be the dog. Here’s why… Continue reading