The long history of books as Christmas gifts



A long history of gifting of printed books at Christmas remains strong despite increases in e-book sales.
B Bernard/Shutterstock

Leah Henrickson, Loughborough University

Christmas is coming, and gifting is at the forefront of many minds. The latest tech changes from year to year, as do the latest fashions. But the gift that never seems to go out of style? A book.

The publishing world is at its busiest in the months leading up to Christmas. In Iceland, there is even a name for this: jólabókaflóð (pronounced yo-la-bok-a-flot) or “Christmas book flood”. The term has also come to refer to the Icelandic custom of exchanging books on Christmas Eve. As a result, a substantial portion of annual hardcover sales are during this period and nearly 850 new titles were released in 2019’s Icelandic book flood alone.

The UK’s annual Christmas book flood begins on Super Thursday: when publishers release a barrage of new titles just in time for the Christmas shopping rush. Some of the heavy hitters among the 426 hardcovers released on October 3 included Philip Pullman’s The Secret Commonwealth, Jojo Moye’s The Giver of Stars, and MP Jess Phillips’ Truth to Power.

A long history of books as Christmas gifts

People were giving books as gifts even before words were ever put to paper. In one of his books of epigrams, the ancient Roman poet Martial recommended the works of famous Roman writers like “Ovid’s Metamorphoses on parchment” (animal skin) and “Livy (the Roman historian) in a single volume” (appearing in a scroll, on papyrus, or on parchment) as presents for the December festival of Saturnalia. Martial’s recommendations also included book-related items like “a book-case” and “a wooden book-covering”.

As Christmas grew more commercialised, the holiday became increasingly important for the book trade. In his Battle for Christmas, American history professor, Stephen Nissenbaum, argued that books were “on the cutting edge of a commercial Christmas, making up more than half of the earliest items advertised as Christmas gifts”, citing examples from the 18th century. By the Victorian era, periodicals were regularly featuring Christmas book reviews to promote book sales during the holidays.

One such article from a 1914 issue of the New York Times begins with the declaration that “the war is not the greatest thing in the world. It cannot destroy Christmas … The publishers are ready to help”. This article touts various “gift books” suitable for Christmas exchanges: “Sumptuous books, books in the making of which illustrator and printer and binder have exercise their art at its best.”

These 20th-century gift books follow from a tradition of sumptuous books given as holiday gifts. Medieval manuscripts, for example, were gifted for a range of religious, romantic, diplomatic, and festive reasons. A 2015 exhibition about medieval gift gifting at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, now archived online, further supports the understanding of manuscripts as gifts with personal and social value.

Books in today’s world

Writing about medieval manuscripts, Geert Claassens noted that a book – whether a medieval manuscript or a modern mass market paperback – always functions as both an object and a text. This observation is especially relevant in a world with e-books, which largely remove the “object” aspect of the book. However, a recent series of focus groups conducted by Laura Dietz at Anglia Ruskin University as part of a wider study about social perceptions of e-books has indicated that readers still prefer gifting and receiving print books over e-books. Maybe this is because it’s remarkably difficult to wrap an e-book and place it underneath the Christmas tree.

In a recent article for the international READ-IT project (Reading Europe Advanced Data Investigation Tool), media professor, Brigitte Ouvry-Vial, describes reading as “a social imaginary” that contributes to both personal and collective development. That is, reading has perceived benefits for both individuals and communities. However, she wrote:

The very motivation for non-prescribed reading has clearly shifted across time from an essentially knowledge-driven cognitive activity, to a broad information-driven cultural experience as well as a leisure activity.

This shift has also led to an association being made between being well-read or reading a lot with well-being, as books are more regularly valued according to the level of psychological uplift and self-healing they provide.

Books represent more than just knowledge; they’ve also taken on the role of highly personalised home decor. This is because books can say things about their owners. Likewise, the book you choose to give someone for Christmas can speak volumes about your relationship with that person. It’s not enough to just give someone a book and call it a day – it has to be the perfect choice.

Keeping the tradition alive

Books have a long history of being given as Christmas gifts, and there seems little chance of the trend going away. So why not take Martial’s recommendations and bestow upon your loved one “Ovid’s Metamorphoses on parchment”? Alternatively, and more realistically, consider a nice hardcover edition found through consulting members of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association or the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association.

For more modern options, YouTube is teeming with video reviews of the latest releases, as well as of “bookish” gifts to give in lieu of or alongside a book. There are also a variety of monthly book subscription boxes. By giving a book or book-related item in 2019, you’ll be contributing to a long and lovely tradition.The Conversation

Leah Henrickson, Doctoral Graduate, Loughborough University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Christmas ghost stories have such enduring appeal



A modern Christmas Carol.
BBC/Scott Free/FX Networks

Sally O’Reilly, The Open University

Our fascination with ghostly tales around Christmas time goes back thousands of years and is rooted in ancient celebrations of the winter solstice. In the depths of winter, pagan traditions included a belief in a ghostly procession across the sky, known as the Wild Hunt. Recounting tales of heroism and monstrous and supernatural beings became a midwinter tradition. Dark tales were deployed to entertain on dark nights.

Ghosts have been associated with winter cold since those ancient times. According to art historian Susan Owens, author of The Ghost, A Cultural History, the ode of Beowulf is one of the oldest surviving ghost stories, probably composed in the eighth century. This is the tale of a Scandinavian prince who fights the monster Grendel. Evil and terrifying, Grendel has many ghostly qualities, and is described as a “grimma gaest” or spirit, and a death shadow or shifting fog, gliding across the land.

In 1611, Shakespeare wrote The Winter’s Tale, which includes the line: “A sad tale’s best for winter, I have one of sprites and goblins.” Two centuries later, the teenage Mary Shelley set her influential horror story Frankenstein in a snowy wasteland, although she wrote it during a wet summer in Switzerland.

The Victorians invented many familiar British Christmas traditions, including Christmas trees, cards, crackers and roast turkey. They also customised the winter ghost story, relating it specifically to the festive season – the idea of something dreadful lurking beyond the light and laughter inspired some chilling tales.

Both Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins published stories in this genre, but the most notable and enduring story of the period was Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843). In this vivid and atmospheric fable, gloomy miser Ebenezer Scrooge is confronted first by the spirit of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley, and thereafter by a succession of Christmas ghosts.

Their revelations about his own past and future and the lives of those close to him lead to a festive redemption which has spawned a host of imitations and adaptations.

Dickens wrote the story to entertain, drawing on the tradition of the ghostly midwinter tale, but his aim was also to highlight the plight of the poor at Christmas. His genius for manipulating sentiment was never used to better effect, but perhaps the most enjoyable elements of the story are the atmospheric descriptions of the hauntings themselves – the door knocker which transforms into Marley’s face and the sinister, hooded figure of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

The tradition was further developed in the stories of M R James, a medieval scholar who published Ghost Stories of an Antiquary in 1904. His chilling Gothic yarns focused on scholars or clergymen who discovered ancient texts or objects with terrifying supernatural consequences.

Chilling tales

Typically, James used the framing device of a group of friends telling stories around a roaring fire. In the introduction to Ghost Stories he said: “I wrote these stories at long intervals, and most of them were read to patient friends, usually at the seasons of Christmas.”

Seminal stories in his oeuvre include Number 13, Oh Whistle & I’ll Come to You and A School Story. Like Dickens, James has been widely imitated and adapted, with Stephen King citing him as an influence. King’s The Shining certainly fits into to the genre of ice-bound chiller.

Christmas ghost stories morph into new forms as time passes, like ectoplasm. Spin offs of A Christmas Carol include Frank Capra’s 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life, in which the story is transposed to small town America, and the 2019 film Last Christmas, the tale of a dysfunctional young woman permanently dressed as a Christmas elf, ripe for Yuletide redemption. This contemporary version conveys messages about integration and the value of diversity.

A new, high-octane version of A Christmas Carol will be shown on TV this Christmas, written by Peaky Blinders creator Stephen Knight. And M R James’ Martin’s Close, the story of a 17th century murder and its supernatural outcome, has also been adapted for the small screen.

So it seems the atavistic desire to lose oneself in tales of the supernatural is still with us. Christmas ghost stories enhance our enjoyment of the mince pies and mulled wine, and the frisson of a paranormal tale offsets the “feel-good” festive spirit that might otherwise be cloying.

Some things never change – we still have a fear of the unknown, a yearning for what is lost and a desire to be secure. In an uncertain, fast-paced world, mediated through smartphones and social media, the seasonal ghost story is here to stay. The jolt of fear and dread such stories convey make the Christmas lights glitter even more brightly.The Conversation

Sally O’Reilly, Lecturer in Creative Writing, The Open University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Books for Christmas – from ancient Rome to Iceland’s jólabókaflóð



A long history of gifting of printed books at Christmas remains strong despite increases in e-book sales.
B Bernard/Shutterstock

Leah Henrickson, Loughborough University

Christmas is coming, and gifting is at the forefront of many minds. The latest tech changes from year to year, as do the latest fashions. But the gift that never seems to go out of style? A book.

The publishing world is at its busiest in the months leading up to Christmas. In Iceland, there is even a name for this: jólabókaflóð (pronounced yo-la-bok-a-flot) or “Christmas book flood”. The term has also come to refer to the Icelandic custom of exchanging books on Christmas Eve. As a result, a substantial portion of annual hardcover sales are during this period and nearly 850 new titles were released in 2019’s Icelandic book flood alone.

The UK’s annual Christmas book flood begins on Super Thursday: when publishers release a barrage of new titles just in time for the Christmas shopping rush. Some of the heavy hitters among the 426 hardcovers released on October 3 included Philip Pullman’s The Secret Commonwealth, Jojo Moye’s The Giver of Stars, and MP Jess Phillips’ Truth to Power.

A long history of books as Christmas gifts

People were giving books as gifts even before words were ever put to paper. In one of his books of epigrams, the ancient Roman poet Martial recommended the works of famous Roman writers like “Ovid’s Metamorphoses on parchment” (animal skin) and “Livy (the Roman historian) in a single volume” (appearing in a scroll, on papyrus, or on parchment) as presents for the December festival of Saturnalia. Martial’s recommendations also included book-related items like “a book-case” and “a wooden book-covering”.

As Christmas grew more commercialised, the holiday became increasingly important for the book trade. In his Battle for Christmas, American history professor, Stephen Nissenbaum, argued that books were “on the cutting edge of a commercial Christmas, making up more than half of the earliest items advertised as Christmas gifts”, citing examples from the 18th century. By the Victorian era, periodicals were regularly featuring Christmas book reviews to promote book sales during the holidays.

One such article from a 1914 issue of the New York Times begins with the declaration that “the war is not the greatest thing in the world. It cannot destroy Christmas … The publishers are ready to help”. This article touts various “gift books” suitable for Christmas exchanges: “Sumptuous books, books in the making of which illustrator and printer and binder have exercise their art at its best.”

These 20th-century gift books follow from a tradition of sumptuous books given as holiday gifts. Medieval manuscripts, for example, were gifted for a range of religious, romantic, diplomatic, and festive reasons. A 2015 exhibition about medieval gift gifting at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, now archived online, further supports the understanding of manuscripts as gifts with personal and social value.

Books in today’s world

Writing about medieval manuscripts, Geert Claassens noted that a book – whether a medieval manuscript or a modern mass market paperback – always functions as both an object and a text. This observation is especially relevant in a world with e-books, which largely remove the “object” aspect of the book. However, a recent series of focus groups conducted by Laura Dietz at Anglia Ruskin University as part of a wider study about social perceptions of e-books has indicated that readers still prefer gifting and receiving print books over e-books. Maybe this is because it’s remarkably difficult to wrap an e-book and place it underneath the Christmas tree.

In a recent article for the international READ-IT project (Reading Europe Advanced Data Investigation Tool), media professor, Brigitte Ouvry-Vial, describes reading as “a social imaginary” that contributes to both personal and collective development. That is, reading has perceived benefits for both individuals and communities. However, she wrote:

The very motivation for non-prescribed reading has clearly shifted across time from an essentially knowledge-driven cognitive activity, to a broad information-driven cultural experience as well as a leisure activity.

This shift has also led to an association being made between being well-read or reading a lot with well-being, as books are more regularly valued according to the level of psychological uplift and self-healing they provide.

Books represent more than just knowledge; they’ve also taken on the role of highly personalised home decor. This is because books can say things about their owners. Likewise, the book you choose to give someone for Christmas can speak volumes about your relationship with that person. It’s not enough to just give someone a book and call it a day – it has to be the perfect choice.

Keeping the tradition alive

Books have a long history of being given as Christmas gifts, and there seems little chance of the trend going away. So why not take Martial’s recommendations and bestow upon your loved one “Ovid’s Metamorphoses on parchment”? Alternatively, and more realistically, consider a nice hardcover edition found through consulting members of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association or the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association.

For more modern options, YouTube is teeming with video reviews of the latest releases, as well as of “bookish” gifts to give in lieu of or alongside a book. There are also a variety of monthly book subscription boxes. By giving a book or book-related item in 2019, you’ll be contributing to a long and lovely tradition.The Conversation

Leah Henrickson, Doctoral Graduate, Loughborough University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

5 reasons I always get children picture books for Christmas



Children who love being read to are more likely to find learning to read easier.
from shutterstock.com

Kym Simoncini, University of Canberra

Christmas is just around the corner. If you’re wondering what to get your child, your friends’ children, your nieces, nephews or basically any very young person in your life –  I highly recommend picture books.

Many people can remember a favourite book when they were a kid. Some of my favourites were the Berenstain Bears with Papa Bear trying, unsuccessfully, to teach his children how to ride a bike or gather honey.

Sadly, a 2011 report from the UK showed the number of young people who say they own a book is decreasing. The report also showed a clear relationship between receiving books as presents and reading ability.

Children who said they had never been given a book as a present were more likely to be reading below the expected level for their age.

Most people can remember a favourite book when they were kids.
The Berenstain Bears/Screenshot

There are lots of benefits of reading aloud to young children, including developing children’s language and print awareness. These include knowing that the squiggles on the page represent words, and that the words tell a story.

Such knowledge gives children a head start when they go on to reading at school.

1. Reading to kids increases their vocabulary

Research shows books have a greater variety of words than conversations. But it also suggests the conversations had during reading matter most.

Adults should discuss ideas in books with children, as they occur, as opposed to just reading a book from start to finish. Talking about the pictures, or what has happened, can lead to rich conversations and enhance language development.

The more words you know, the simpler it is to recognise them and comprehend the meaning of the text. Children who read more become better readers and more successful students.

It’s important to have conversations with your kids about what you’re reading.
from shutterstock.com

2. Books can increase children’s maths and science skills

Picture books show children maths and science concepts through a story, which helps kids grasp them easier.

Some books (like How Many Legs and How Big is a Million) explicitly explore concepts such as numbers. Other stories, like the Three Little Pigs, have concepts embedded in them. Children can learn about the properties of materials when adults talk about the strength of hay, sticks and bricks.

A study in the Netherlands found kindergarten children who were read picture books, and were engaged in discussions of the maths concepts in the books, increased their maths performance, compared to a control group of children who weren’t read these books.

Three Little Pigs can teach children about the properties of hay, bricks and sticks.
from shutterstock.com

Early Learning STEM Australia has created a booklist which gives parents and teachers ideas for books that contain STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) ideas. These include:

  • They All Saw a Cat, which shows the perspectives of different animals

  • Lucy in the City, where a cat loses her way home and an owl helps her

  • Dreaming Up, which contrasts children’s constructions with notable works of architecture.

3. Books are mirrors and windows

Nearly 30 years ago, children’s literature professor, Rudine Sims Bishop, wrote how books can be windows, through which we see other worlds. These windows can become sliding doors when we use our imaginations and become part of them.

Books can also be mirrors, when we see our own lives and experiences in them. In this way, they reaffirm our place in the world.

Books can help kids see into other worlds.
from shutterstock.com

Children need both types of books to understand people come from different cultures and have different ways of thinking and doing things. Books can show that children of all cultures are valued in society.

Children who never see themselves represented in books may feel marginalised. Unfortunately, the majority of books feature white children or animals, so many children only experience books as windows.

Examples of books that show the lives of Indigenous children include Big Rain Coming and Kick with My Left Foot (which is also a great book about left and right).

4. Books can counter stereotypes

Children learn gender stereotypes from a very young age. Research shows by the age of six, girls are already less likely than boys to think girls are “really, really smart” and they begin to avoid activities thought to be for “really, really smart” children.

Picture books can challenge these and other stereotypes. Reading books that portray atypical behaviours such as girls playing with trucks or with girls in traditional male roles such as being doctors, scientists or engineers, can change children’s beliefs and activities.

Iggy Peck, Architect; Rosie Revere, Engineer; and Ada Twist, Scientist are very popular. And Sofia Valdez, Future Prez has just been released.

Children who have more books at home end up more educated.
from shutterstock.com

The City of Monash in Melbourne has created a list of children’s picture books that promote gender equality and challenge gender stereotypes. This includes one of my favourite books, The Paperbag Princess, who saves herself from a dragon and decides not to marry the prince after he complains she is a mess.

5. Just having more books makes you more educated

A study that looked at data from 27 countries, including Australia, found children growing up in homes with many books got three years more education than children from bookless homes. This was independent of their parents’ education, occupation and class.

Adults need to model good reading habits and their enjoyment of reading. Giving children a love of reading can be the best present we ever give.The Conversation

Kym Simoncini, Associate professor Early Childhood and Primary Education, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Silly Season Break


Just a quick post to let everyone know that this Blog will be on a break from now, over the silly season and should return early in the New Year. This isn’t so much because of Christmas and the New Year directly, but because my work schedule is so great and I won’t have the time to put in on the Blog during this period. I would have liked to keep up the posts, but it has become clear I just can’t keep it up at the moment – it is far too busy at work and with increasing staff shortages over the next couple of weeks, it will not get any easier. I will still post books I finish reading over this period.

Let me also take the opportunity to wish you all a happy and safe Christmas, and New Year period. Enjoy this time with family and friends.

Silly Season Break


I wasn’t going to have a break from posting blog posts over Christmas – New Year, but I have now decided that I will. I’m just too tired not to have a break. So at some point I’m going to go bush, throw up the tent and read some books (modern-style). I could really use the break right now. Still, from time to time I may post something I come across. This will be an extended period, from the time I post this update, through to the middle of January 2018. From that point I’ll get back to more regular posts.

So let me take this opportunity to wish you all a great Christmas and New Year, and enjoy the time with family and friends if you can. – now something for a parting laugh

Charles Dickens: The man who invented Christmas plagiarized Jesus


File 20171207 11318 p5aocn.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A Christmas Carol can be seen as a mirror to biblical parables.
(Bleeker Street Media/Elevation Pictures)

Matthew Robert Anderson, Concordia University

Everyone knows the story of Scrooge, a man so miserly his name has become synonymous with penny-pinching meanness. Scrooge’s conversion from miser to benefactor has been told and retold since Charles Dickens first wrote A Christmas Carol in the fall and winter of 1843. Ebenezer is a wonderful character, so richly portrayed and fascinating he’s echoed in stories from The Grinch to It’s a Wonderful Life.

Pop culture has embraced both Dickens and his tale. With this season’s The Man Who Invented Christmas, Hollywood has done it again.

But who was Scrooge before he was, well, Christopher Plummer? The inspiration for the crotchety Christmas-hater may have been those who put Dickens’ own father into debtor’s prison and were responsible for young Charles working in a shoe-blacking factory.

Some Dickens scholars believe the author’s 1843 visit to sooty Manchester, or to “the black streets of London,” (as he described them in a letter to a friend) influenced him. It may be that the fable was a moral reminder from Dickens to himself, as he teetered on financial ruin. This is the theory proposed in the book by Les Standiford on which this year’s movie is based.

Did Dickens in fact invent Christmas, as we know it? Hollywood may think so, but others, like David Parker in his Christmas and Charles Dickens vehemently disagree.

Many believe Dicken’s version of Christmas isn’t religious.
Bleeker Street Media/Elevation Pictures)

Whatever your opinion, the prevailing wisdom is that A Christmas Carol isn’t particularly religious. As a professor of biblical studies at Concordia University and also a Lutheran minister, I have a different reading.

It’s true that the celebration of the season which Scrooge discovers has much more to do with generosity, family gatherings and large cooked birds, than the Nativity. But maybe those seeking explicit scriptural references in Dickens’ story are underestimating the Victorian novelist’s skill — and his audacity. Perhaps A Christmas Carol contains an alternative to the Bible rather than a simple borrowing from it. And perhaps that’s the point.

Jesus was a master story-teller

Jesus, by all accounts another master story-teller, told a parable that, stripped of Dickens’ English waistcoats, ledgers, fog and shutters, could almost be a mirror to A Christmas Carol:

“There once was a rich man. A poor man named Lazarus lived at his gate, with nothing to eat. Lazarus died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died.”

There follows, in Jesus’ tale, an exchange between the rich man, who is in torment, and Abraham, who acts as the guardian of paradise. It’s hard not to think of the innocent Lazarus as a precursor to Tiny Tim.

First the rich man asks for his own relief from hell. When that’s denied, he pleads: “I beg you, send Lazarus to my father’s house. I have five brothers. Let him warn them so they don’t come to this place of agony.” Abraham replies: “They have Moses and the prophets. They must listen to them.”

“No, Father Abraham!” cries the rich man, “But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will change” (Luke 16:19-31).

One can almost hear the chains of Morley’s ghost rattling. What would have happened if Father Abraham had said yes? Something very like a first-century version of A Christmas Carol.

Let’s not forget that the people of our western English-speaking past, especially artists and writers, were imbued with Biblical references and ideas. As Northrop Frye, among others, has argued, they lived and created in a world shaped by the rhythms, narratives, images and conceptions (or misconceptions) of the King James Bible.

Was Dickens familiar with Christian scriptures? All evidence points to the fact that he was more acquainted than most. Despite an antipathy to organized religion, from 1846 to 1849 Dickens wrote a short biography of Jesus for his children, titled The Life of our Lord.

He forbade that his small retelling of Jesus’ life should be published, until not only he, but also his children, had died. The “Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man” was one of eight stories of Jesus that Dickens chose to include in that volume. But in his story of Scrooge, Dickens was too much of a writer to leave Jesus’ parable as is, and his age too suspicious of scripture to leave it “unbroken.”

A Christmas Carol unites the deliciously horrific sensibility of the Gothic movement with the powerfully simple narrative style, joined to moral concern, typical of parables.

A Christmas Carol may be heavily influenced by The Parable of Lazarus.

Was Dickens perhaps dozing off some Sunday while the rector droned on about Lazarus, until he wakened with a start dreaming of Scrooge? We will never know. But it’s an intriguing possibility.

Happy endings for the rich

Surprisingly, the Sunday after Dickens was buried in Westminster Abbey, Dean Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, preaching on exactly this text, spoke of Dickens as the “parabler” of his age. Stanley said that “By [Dickens] that veil was rent asunder which parts the various classes of society. Through his genius the rich man…was made to see and feel the presence of Lazarus at his gate.”

I would go further: Dickens took the parable, and then retold and changed it, so that the rich man gets a second chance. As a privileged societal figure who had gone through financial difficulties and who cared about the poor himself, Dickens freely adapted Jesus to come up with a story that’s ultimately more about love than judgement.

When confronted with Marley’s spectre, Scrooge, unnerved but unrepentant, addresses the apparition: “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.”

The perceptive reader (or viewer) of A Christmas Carol can point a finger at Marley’s ghost and add: “Or maybe you’re an ironic but hope-filled riff on Jesus, by a famous nineteenth-century author who wanted to write his own story of redemption.”

The ConversationDickens not only invented this Christmas genre, but imagined a happy ending for himself in it. He penned an enduring story about the second chance even a rich person can receive, if haunted by persistent-enough ghosts.

The Man Who Invented Christmas (Bleeker Street Media/Elevation Pictures)

Matthew Robert Anderson, Affiliate Professor, Theological Studies, Loyola College for Diversity & Sustainability, Concordia University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to keep kids reading over the Christmas break


Ryan Spencer, University of Canberra

Children who fail to read regularly during long breaks from school will often see their reading ability drop. This is termed the “summer slide”.

Socio-economic status can be a factor – if a child’s household has fewer books to read, then they will have fewer authentic reading opportunities.

But those children who keep up their reading over the summer break are likely to see improvements in in their reading abilities, both in terms of what books they read and how often they interact with these texts.

Some methods of keeping kids engaged in reading are more effective than others.

For example, choosing a book that the child will simply enjoy or find entertaining, rather than treating it as a learning exercise, will more likely keep them interested in reading.

Here are some other ways to help your child enjoy reading over the summer break:

Think of books that will interest your child

Novelty books that incorporate fun into reading are a great way to engage younger readers with useful book-handling behaviours.

Books with interactive aspects such as pop-up displays, lift-up flaps and tactile elements are much more likely to immerse children, and sway them from the notion that “reading books is boring”.

Encouraging children to seek out books based on popular film and television programs is also a great way to extend their interests beyond watching the screen.

After reading parts of these books together, you can discuss with your child how the story varies between the visual and print versions and ask them which they prefer.

Use technology to engage and assist

Reading isn’t just limited to print books alone. Encouraging children to read books on electronic devices can be a way to engage otherwise reluctant children with reading.

Not only are these electronic copies often cheaper than hard-copy books, they also provide other useful features, such as reducing the “hard book” feeling for reluctant readers. Many reluctant readers feel anxious about reading thick books with small print. The eBook removes this as a concern as children can adjust the size of the font with ease and the physical size of the book is no longer a concern. Teachers are already embracing these features in their classrooms to provide engaging and useful reading experiences.

Researchers have demonstrated that struggling readers benefit from the additional features that eReaders provide, such as text to speech, where the eReader will electronically read the text out loud to the reader. Functions such as these are very useful in helping to fill in the gaps in childen’s understanding when they are reading an unknown text.

Read with your child every day

Regular reading routines are essential to developing effective reading habits.

Set aside a time every day when you and your child can read together, and another time when you can discuss your favourite parts of the book.

If you are reading with your child and they come to a word that they don’t know or aren’t sure of, remember the following simple rules:

Wait: Give your child a chance to figure out the word on their own. Don’t be the instant word factory and supply the word – help your child to be a resourceful reader by allowing them time to gather more information and clues.

Ask: Does that make sense? Does the picture give you a clue? Could you read on for more information? Asking these questions reminds your child of the different strategies they can use to figure out what the text is saying.

Then: If the child is still stuck on that word, ask them to skip it and read on. You can always drop that word into the conversation as you turn the page. This supplies the unknown word and has the added advantage of not shaming the child for being wrong.

One of the best gifts that you can give your child over the festive season is to spend time with them finding, sharing and exploring exciting books.

The Conversation

Ryan Spencer, Clinical Teaching Specialist; Lecturer in Literacy Education, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bah, humbug: the misery of Christmas in classic literature


Michelle Smith, Deakin University

Every festive season guarantees a television re-run of the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, with the deflating turkey, incinerated tree, and extreme Griswold household lighting display that is now sufficiently commonplace for the joke to be compromised.

Most modern Christmas films angle for comedy with a touch of sentimental schmaltz. In contrast, literary Christmases frequently tap into the anxiety and sadness that often accompany the “happiest time of year”.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843) is the quintessential Christmas tale. Even for those who have never read any Dickens, the miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge has permeated our culture, from 1940s Scrooge McDuck cartoons to the Muppets adaptation of A Christmas Carol in 1992.

Scrooge (1935). The first sound version of A Christmas Carol.

Money-lender Scrooge’s greed extends to denying the pleasures of Christmas to himself and his employees. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come aid Scrooge in reconciling his pain at the loss of a past love and redeeming himself among the living, so that he can find a welcoming place in the world on Christmas day.

As Tara Moore explains, Dickens and other writers in the Victorian period shaped “a certain version of urban Christmas—plum pudding, mourning the lost, holly and hearth-love” that we continue to idealise and reproduce.

Truman Capote’s autobiographical short story A Christmas Memory (1956) transports the theme of mourning happier times and beloved people from the snowy cobblestone streets of London to small-town Alabama.

The seven-year-old narrator, Buddy, describes the pleasures of a poor – but loving and inventive – Christmas with his elderly cousin, complete with scandalous nips of whisky after baking fruitcakes.

This is Buddy’s last Christmas with her, as he subsequently moves to military school. As time passes, dementia erases the cousin’s memories of Buddy and a November finally arrives,

when she cannot rouse herself to exclaim: “Oh my, it’s fruitcake weather!”

Other literary Christmases struggle to even find a bittersweet strand to the holiday. Dostoyevsky’s A Christmas Tree and a Wedding (1848) is a disturbing story in which the narrator recalls a past Christmas party in which a male landowner watches a rich girl playing with a doll.

The landowner calculates that when the girl is old enough marry that her dowry will total half a million roubles; he attempts to kiss the girl and extract a promise of love from her. The wedding of the title, which the narrator has just attended, is revealed to be that of the landowner and the rich girl, held five years after their Christmas meeting.

Clement Clarke Moore’s poem ’Twas the Night Before Christmas (1823) popularised an idyllic children’s vision of Christmas rendered magical by Saint Nicholas and his flying reindeer. In several of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales with festive settings, however, he does not soften his trademark melancholy for the sake of Christmas cheer.

Stories of perfect Christmases are often tinged with sadness, as in Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Fir Tree’.
Author provided

In the little-known story The Fir Tree (1844), a tree is impatient for the day when it will be tall enough to take the exciting journey that other trees in the forest enjoy each December.

The fir tree is blissful when he is felled, transported, and decorated with candles and a gleaming star for a family’s Christmas Eve celebrations. He is then discarded in the household attic and eventually chopped to pieces and tossed on a fire. “Past! past!” the tree cries as he burns, realising that he should have taken pleasure during his lifetime in the forest, rather than eyeing an unknown future.

The Little Match Girl (1845) is similarly heart-rending, as a hungry, barefooted girl attempts to sell matches on snowy streets on New Year’s Eve.

She lights several matches to warm herself and is comforted by a series of visions, including a Christmas scene with a tree shining with “thousands of candles” and a stuffed goose that jumps from its dish,

and waddle[s] along the floor with a knife and fork in its breast, right over to the little girl.

The girl freezes to death on the street. As is typical of Andersen, her lonely death is intended to be a happy ending, as she will join with her grandmother and God in heaven.

Christmas is a backdrop for confronting feelings of isolation, strangeness and escalating family tensions in a range of fiction. Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda (1988), set in the 19th century, is a striking example of Christmas serving as a lightning rod for intergenerational conflict.

Oscar’s father, Theophilus, is a fundamentalist Christian preacher who shuns Christmas feasting and celebration as pagan in origin. The servants covertly cook a plum pudding for Oscar, but his father catches him eating the “fruit of Satan” after one life-changing spoonful.

Theophilus strikes his son, forcing him to spit out the forbidden pleasure. Oscar, seeking a divine sign, asks God “if it be Thy will that Thy people eat pudding, then smite him!”. His father is soon bleeding with an injury and Oscar’s rejection of his father’s religion is set in motion.

In literature, as in our lived experiences of Christmas, the expectations of family, togetherness, and plenitude can heighten a sense of loneliness, loss, and conflict.

While there are many cheerful stories of Christmas, for children in particular, a significant number of literary Christmases scratch away at its twinkling veneer of tinsel and goodwill.

There’s an element of humbug in the mythology of Christmas, as Scrooge would have it, after all.

The Conversation

Michelle Smith, Research fellow in English Literature, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.