Classics from the attic

6th December 1996 at 00:00
Ann Treneman on the books that come back with Santa Claus.

Everyone turns into their mother in some way or other, and one of my inherited indulgences is Christmas books. My mother had stacks of them, and they only came out to be read in December - now I have stacks too, and this is the week they come down from the attic.

Like any collection, it is a mixed bag and a personal one which - like our family - spans both American and British cultures and accommodates ages from five to 40. We are ruthless - the ones that don't strike a chord are out of the house by Twelfth Night, while the survivors are put away for 11 months; it is unthinkable to see a Christmas book on the shelf in July. The oldest book is almost in tatters but, as it is 35 years old and has been read thousands of times, it seems valuable to us. This is The Little Golden Book of The Night Before Christmas, Clement C Moore's 1822 poem. Our two other beautifully illustrated Night Befores put this one to shame, but 'tis the season for nostalgia.

Our newest addition is The Orchard Book of Stories from the Ballet with its brilliant "Nutcracker", which manages to be both a magical tale (recreated by Geraldine McCaughrean) and exactly the right length for child and adult. Another story good for the telling is "The Star Child" by Oscar Wilde - his fairy tale that says it all about the art of giving.

The modern favourite is Janet and Allan Ahlberg's Jolly Postman, one of the cleverest books ever devised, which is just as well since it is read constantly. But Peter Spier's Christmas! is a close second - his drawings take us through the season for a typical American family, from making cards to choosing a tree and baking cookies to the day itself, to the washing up and the day after.

Another book that goes beyond words is On Christmas Eve by Peter Collington (1990) - it is dedicated to children without chimneys, but the story of a Christmas fairy will delight even those with working hearths.

Reserved for closer to the day itself are Susan Jeffers's sumptuous Silent Night and The Christmas Story from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which illustrates the Gospels of Matthew and Luke with woodcuts and masterpieces.

We have Dickens and Dylan Thomas, Dr Seuss and The Snowman, too, but none compares with my favourite - The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen. This provides us all with a lesson in what happens when you are never content with what you have.

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