[Speaking of Spencer’s Faerie Queene:]
“It must be a really great book because one can read it as a boy in one way, and then re-read it in middle life and get something very different out of it — and that to my mind is one of the best tests.”
C.S. Lewis, The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, December 1935
One of our favorite traditions at Christmas is to dig out the Christmas books and set them in the old wooden box by the fireplace. This grey-ish and slightly nicked crate once held the much-anticipated annual shipment of cranberries from our friends in Cape Cod. For decades since, it has held our favorite Christmas stories carefully tucked inside. We cozy up on the sofa with our books and a frothy-rich cup of cocoa, illumined by the soft glow of the lit tree. Re-reading the old tales settles the heart. We comfortably turn to our old favorites, lingering over the text that we know well enough to recite from memory, soaking in the lovely illustrations, even taking in a faint whiff of the old pages fragranced with fireplace, ink, and pipe smoke. C.S. Lewis wrote to his friend Arthur Greeves and noted, “There is something awfully nice about reading a book again, with all of the half-unconscious memories it brings back.” (C.S. Lewis, The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves, 16 November 1915) Some of those old Golden Books were gifts that I received as a child in my stocking on Christmas morning.
Discovering a new story blesses us with delightful anticipation. Each year, we add two or three to the collection — usually a classic story (like an illustrated Dickens) and something new (perhaps poetry or a contemplative Advent devotional). I invite you to look through Cultivating’s Winter Reading Recommendations. Do browse the books that were especially chosen for their gifts of wonder, hope, beauty, reverence, and imaginative themes. There are wonderful offerings in this list for children and adults! You will find wisdom and rich perspectives from a host of literary masters to prepare mind and heart for Advent and Christmas, as well as brilliant devotionals to bring into the new year! And to round out the list, you will find several literature classics.
We begin with a cornerstone text embodying the theme of wonder at its core. Awaking Wonder: Opening Your Child’s Heart to the Beauty of Learning, written by Sally Clarkson, encourages and instructs the reader how to kindle wonder into education. This has been an odd and challenging year for parents who are trying to redeem their children’s education. How do we intentionally build our lives and those of our children on a foundation of wonder and imagination? Clarkson relates her family’s experiences of living each day with joy and curiosity. This book is filled to overflowing with ideas to guide you in building a sense of wonder in your child’s heart. But to be sure, this book is a blessing for anyone who desires to live with greater curiosity and delight.
During this season, our thoughts not only turn outward in anticipation of the birth of Christ, but also inward to pondering over our place in His creation. Are we born to this sense of awe? You are created for a purpose, with creativity and imagination and a role that only you can fill. Alister McGrath’s book, Born to Wonder: Exploring Our Deepest Questions, opens our eyes toward a grander vision of what our purpose and place might be in God’s grand story.
“Advent in a paradoxical season: a season of waiting and anticipation in which the waiting itself is strangely rich and fulfilling, a season that looks back at the people who waited in darkness for the coming light of Christ and yet forward to a fuller light still to come and illuminate our darkness.” — Malcolm Guite, Waiting on the Word.
Wonder wraps Advent in a season of preparation setting our minds in hope — we are watching in wonder and waiting for the bright Christmas morn when hope is renewed and joy settles in our countenance as we approach a new year. I have chosen seasonal as well as year-long devotionals. Poetry embodies the enchantment and beauty of the season and Malcolm Guite’s Waiting on the Word — A poem a day for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany presents a daily poem written by classic and modern poets with an accompanying text elaborating on the theme of each work. Many authors featured in Cultivating have penned lovely devotional books embedded with beauty through poetry, photography, liturgy, and prose. Diana Pavlac Glyer’s study, Clay in the Potters Hands: Second Edition, illuminates the metaphor of God as the Potter and us as the clay. How refreshing to think of this intimate connection between Creator and His creation as a loving process that creates something beautiful.
Finally, I encourage you to explore a classic story or two. George MacDonald was a 19th-century author who deeply influenced the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Lewis credits MacDonald as the author who ‘baptized his imagination’ and inspired Lewis’s own writing. MacDonald’s fairy tale Phantastes and richly meaningful Malcolm will captivate you! And what would Christmas be without a book or two to read aloud while tucked into a cozy blanket? Letters from Father Christmas is an enchanting book that features the letters that Tolkien wrote (speaking as Father Christmas) and illustrated for his children each year. Dylan Thomas weaves a gentle tale from his Welsh childhood in his picture book narrative A Child’s Christmas in Wales. This story is a personal read-aloud favorite because of its lilting wordplay and flowing lines.
I do hope you enjoy the books found in this list and pray that it will be a helpful resource for you in your pursuit of good literature! Our featured choices are timeless in theme and imagery and will truly lift your heart. Richly told stories, glimmering fairy tales, insightful devotionals, and poetic verses will enchant our souls as we wait and watch for wonder.
The featured image is courtesy of Annie Nardone and used with her kind permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Annie Nardone is a flannel-clad, cowboy boot-shod adventurer who seldom travels with a map because joy and surprise are discovered in the journey! Her sincere passion is the reintegration of the arts and humanities with theology and the Christian imagination. She holds a Masters Degree in Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University and writes for Literary Life and the quarterly magazine, An Unexpected Journal. Annie resides in Virginia with her Middle Earth/Narnia/Hogwarts-loving family, and an assemblage of sphynx cats and feline foundlings who read with her daily. In a poll taken among friends, six things that characterize her include: books, C.S. Lewis, spontaneous adventure, Shakespeare, caffeine, and cats.