Advent Reading Challenge: Little Women

7th December

‘Christmas with the March sisters’

an extract from Little Women (which was the subject of a previous post ) Louisa M Alcott

Christmas Flowers

Christmas Flowers

Little Women opens with Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy regreting the prospective lack of Christmas presents. Mr March is away at war, which is naturally hard for the family left behind who miss him a great deal. Money is also scarce in the March household but Mrs March (Marmee) has assured the girls that there will be one special gift under each of their pillows:

Jo was the first to wake in the grey dawn of Christmas morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when her little sock fell down because it was so crammed with goodies. Then she remembered her mother’s promise, and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson covered book.

The book was John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and each sister received a copy that Christmas morning. Marmee had reminded the girls how much they had enjoyed playing at pilgrims when they were younger, taking bundles on their backs and travelling from the City of Destruction (the cellar) up to the Celestial City (the attic).

Marmee says to her daughters that they should ‘begin again not in play, but in earnest, and see how far you can get before father comes

Pilgrim's Progress

Christian bearing his bundle

home‘. In fact, the March girls begin their progress that very day by giving up their Christmas breakfast to a desperately poor family, the Hummels, living nearby.

The true spirit of Christmas in action…

Note: The Pilgrim’s Progress was first published in England in 1678. The illustration above is taken from a 1778 edition (thanks to Wikipedia).

Photograph: Chris Mills


Advent Reading Challenge: three ships

6th December

I Saw Three Ships (Anonymous)

line drawing of three ships

I saw three ships

This poem (which has also been set to music as a carol) features in a collection entitled Read Me: A Poem For Every Day Of The Year (10th anniversary edition) chosen by Gaby Morgan. This is a wide-ranging collection of poems guaranteed to encourage children’s enthusiasm for verse.

Here is the first verse of this old poem and as a festive treat I have also added below a clip of a recording of the carol by Blackmore’s Night (taken from Winter Carols)

Opinion differs on what the three ships represent: the Holy Trinity, Mary, Joseph and Jesus or the three wise men.

I saw three ships come sailing in,

Come sailing in, come sailing in,

I saw three ships come sailing in,

On Christmas Day in the morning.

Regular readers may recall from the interview with Paul Anthony Shortt that a song by Blackmore’s Night was an inspiration behind his novel Locked In. Thanks to Paul’s answers I have now discovered some new music!

Credits: clip uploaded to YouTube by Adiabatka on 08/06/2008 (with thanks)

illustration: Chris Mills

Advent Reading Challenge: updated Dickens

5th December

Mrs Scrooge: A Christmas Tale by Carol Ann Duffy, illustrated by Posy Simmonds (Picador, 2009)

Mrs Scrooge

Mrs Scrooge and a rather jolly ghost

A fresh spin on a Christmas classic and a welcome addition to our ever-growing collection of seasonal literature. I try to buy something new each year and as far as possible I choose a book that will appeal to adults and children alike. This entertaining story certainly fits the bill and Posy Simmonds’ illustrations are a humorous delight.

I have quoted a few lines from the story below, but without, I hope spoiling the story for anyone new to this quirky tale. Mrs Scrooge is  a widow (her husband ‘doornail dead’) who lives with her cat Catchit and is an avowed enemy of consumerism and champion of the environment and of free range turkeys:

‘She hated waste, consumerism, Mrs Scrooge, foraged in the London parks for chestnuts, mushrooms, blackberries, ate leftovers, recycled, mended, passed on, purchased secondhand, turned the heating down and put on layers, walked everywhere, drank tap water, used public libraries, possessed a wind-up radio, switched off lights, lit candles (darkness is cheap and Mrs Scrooge liked it) and would not spend one penny on a plastic bag.’

See what happens when the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future make their appearance. You will not be disappointed and may even shed a tear…

Advent Reading Challenge: Mincemeat

4th December

Mincemeat, a poem by Elizabeth Gould

Elizabeth Gould’s poem is another extract from The Book of Christmas, edited by Fiona Waters, mentioned on the 2nd December and again it is about a traditional edible element of Christmas. Having said that, as consumers are only too aware it is perfectly possible to buy mince pies all the year round. I still persist in the notion that mince pies taste much nicer in December, when they are supposed (by any right minded person) to be eaten. It is also perfectly true that a mince pie is an ideal snack to leave out for Father Christmas on his big night out.

Here are a few lines to tempt your tastebuds:

Mince meat and Pie

Sugar and Spice…

Sing a song of mincemeat,

Currants, raisins, spice,

Apples, sugar, nutmeg,

Pack it all away

Tied in little jars and pots,

Until Christmas Day. 

Sounds delicious…

What is your favourite festive fayre? Are you a mince pie fan?

The Book of Christmas

The Book of Christmas

Advent Reading Challenge: Tolkien Letters

3rd December

A christmas Classic..

The Father Christmas Letters

The Father Christmas Letters by JRR Tolkien, edited by Baillie Tolkien (George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1976). I have had this book for many years, though it was not bought new. Within its pages lurks a newspaper cutting on a new edition of Tolkien’s book from The Birmingham Post 23rd December 1995. I never did get around to buying a newer edition of The Father Christmas Letters

Tolkien wrote the first letter to his children in 1920, and for over twenty years continued to regale them with the goings-on at the North Pole. Father Christmas’ main helper was the Polar Bear, along with an assorted cast of characters including the bear’s nephews Paksu and Valkotukka.

This is such a wonderful book that it was difficult to select a passage to quote here. I was about to resort to the time honoured tactic of letting the book fall open and picking a piece at random, when my daughter pointed out that it would be a good idea to choose the piece that featured on the back cover. Tolkien’s illustration captures the poor old Polar Bear’s accident beautifully. Parcels scattered down the stairs, Polar Bear sprawled at the foot and a rather vexed Father Christmas at the head of the stairs.

Polar Bear falling down the stairs

Polar Bear’s accident – one of Tolkien’s brilliant illustrations

Thursday December 20th 1928

‘What do you think the poor dear old bear has been and done this time?…Only fell from from top to bottom of the main stairs on Thursday! We were beginning to get the first lot of parcels down out of the store-rooms into the hall. Polar Bear would inist on taking an enormous pile on his head as well as lots in his arms. Bang Rumble Clatter Crash! awful moanings and groanings:

Never fear, it all turned out right in the end!

Advent Reading Challenge: Christmas Pudding

2nd December

A rather rotund pudding...

A rather rotund pudding…

Pudding Charms, a seasonal poem  by Charlotte Druitt Cole

I found this poem in a children’s poetry collection The Book of Christmas, complied by Fiona Waters and illustrated by Matilda Harrison (Chrysalis Chilidren’s Books, 2004).

The Book of Christmas a was a gift to my daughter from my parents in 2007.  I hadn’t come across it before, but it has become a mainstay of our Christmas reading. Fiona Waters’ book is a wonderful collection of seasonal poems and stories and Matilda Harrison’s accompanying drawings are bright and lively.

I hope to feature one or two more poems from the compilation later in the month. Food is such an important part of the festive season, particularly Christmas pudding that I thought I should give over enough space to mouth watering goodies. Just the thought of all that sugar, spice and candied peel being mixed up ready for cooking. Druitt Cole also mentions the traditional charms that go into the pudding…a little bit of magic.

Here is a snatch from Charlotte Druitt Cole’s Pudding Charms:

Currants and raisins, and sugar and spice,

Orange peel, lemon peel – everything nice

Mixed up together, and put in a pan.

And out of her pocket a thimble she drew,

A button of silver, a silver horse – shoe,

And, whisp’ring a charm in the pudding pan popped them,

Then flew up the chimney directly she dropped them.

Hope you like today’s food related piece – edibles will surely feature again…

(illusration Chris Mills, 2012)

Advent Reading Challenge: Dickens

1st December



A Christmas Tree

Christmas with Dickens

A Christmas Tree

by Charles Dickens

Illustrated by HM Brock (Guild Publishing 1969, 1986). This little book has sat on the shelves for quite a while and was bought second hand in Birmingham.

What better way to begin our Advent Reading Challenge than with  a little bit of Dickens? Just for a change though, I have not chosen to feature the more obvious Christmas Carol.

Here is a Christmas tree covered in all manner of delights including, ‘tambourines, books, work-boxes, paint-boxes, sweetmeat boxes, peep-show boxes, and all kinds of boxes…humming-tops, needlecases, pen-wipers, smelling-bottles‘ and much more besides.

After describing the tree, the narrator goes on to ask what item ‘we all remember best upon the branches of the Christmas Tree of our own young Christmas days’.

Now, if you were inspired by Charles Dickens,  there is a question for you. What do you remember best of all? Drop a comment in the box…

Fireside scene

Back cover – fireside tales


Christmas on the Landing: Advent Announcement

It can hardly have escaped anyone’s attention that we are edging ever closer to a certain celebratory time of the year, though I refuse to pay too much attention to the ‘x days shopping days left’ kind of pressure. Anyway, working in retail as I do it tends to be other people’s shopping that occupies most of my efforts during December. Christmas-itis generally strikes me at about halfway through the month and I just want to run away screaming. I generally just about manage to get around to my own purchases before the close of play on Christmas Eve.

The Book of Christmas

The Book of Christmas

Bearing all of that in mind, I have decided to devote December on the Landing Book Shelves to a seasonal Literary Challenge in an attempt to induce calmness. After much prowling of the bookshelves with a thoughtfully furrowed brow, I have come up with the (possibly not very original) idea of putting a Landing related Advent Calendar/Advent Reading Challenge together. I have compiled a list of Christmas poems and episodes in fiction and plan to post a mini blog each day in Advent.

My inner child has carried me away a little so this Advent Challenge feature will be entirely composed of snippets from children’s books lurking on our shelves. I have to admit to stretching the notion of Landing Book Shelves just a tad, as some of the Yuletide goodies live in either the loft or my daughter’s bookshelves. But I hope you will overlook that minor fudge in the cause of Christmastide.

I should point out however, that you will have to improvise a little for yourselves. My technological skills are not up to creating opening virtual doors so you will simply have to pretend. Of course if you follow this blog, then opening your email will, I feel, simulate the door opening bit quite satisfactorily. Each day should bring to you a seasonal literary morsel with a suitable illustration by way of accompaniment.  Well, that is the plan (and the challenge) anyway so fingers crossed that it all works out successfully.

Keep checking back during December to see what you find…(apologies in advance for the lack of chocolate in the Landing Advent Challenge Calendar).