This time of year is for curling up on the sofa in front of the fire with an orange and a children’s book with a morally-satisfying resolution and lots of details of food, houses and families. Here’s what I’ll be reading this year.
One of Rosemary Sutcliff’s softer books, set in the early years of Henry VIII’s reign. Not a period I’m usually interested by, but Sutcliff conjurs up the prosperity and joyousness of early Tudor life as the English start to explore the seas and the world. What I love about Sutcliff’s writing is that each of her characters is completely believable – which is what makes some of her darker books so heart-rending as characters confront their moral battles or pain. This book is lighter and you’re never in doubt that Tamsyn will reach her heart’s desire on Christmas Eve.
Next up, Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse which was one of the books (Narnia, Carbonel, The Secret Garden, E Nesbit) that my mother read to me when I growing up. (My dad and I read the Professor Branestawm series with much giggling and he also patiently brought home swathes of Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew from the library each week.)Here is the opening illustration of Maria, Miss Heliotrope and Wiggins setting off for the West Country. Mentions of crystal beads sewn inside one’s boots or licking the dinner from one’s whiskers are now a code between my mother and me.
Another favourite is The Herb of Grace, which I own in a smooth cream vellum-like edition with bright green lettering on the spine, a little like this one. Although the book again ends at Christmas, it is the thought of Nadine sitting in her new study looking at the river, the garden and her powder-green walls and feeling at peace after the war that brings up the right feelings of home-coming at this time of year.
Talking of journeys and mysterious pathways, another favourite is Jostein Gaarder’s The Christmas Story, which takes you through a magical advent calendar and history day by day.
and a recent discovery are the extremely comforting reads of Eva Ibbotson, which cover food, the warmth of a loving home (usually contrasted with a heroine’s exile at some point) and a good dose of memories of Frances Hodgson Burnett, especially in Journey to the River Sea.
Finally, this year I have the next instalment of the Carey novels to get on with:
What are you curling up with?