The Miracle on Ebenezer Street by Catherine Doyle
Published by Puffin, 2020
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This playful, heartfelt reimagining of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is set in the present day. We follow George, a ten-year-old boy who lives with his father and grandmother, following the death of his mother three years prior. Overcome by grief, his father has banned Christmas and forbids George from spending time with his mother’s side of the family, finding it too difficult to face his memories of the wife he lost. When George finds a strange snow globe in Marley’s Curiosity Shop, he sparks an adventure full of magic that will take them through Christmas past, present and future.
Charming and packed full of equal amounts of pathos and humour, Doyle’s love letter to Dickens’ classic is a lovely festive read that celebrates the wonder of the season, while acknowledging it can also be a time of great sadness, as George and his father are forced to confront their grief. Scenes are evoked wonderfully, with vivid descriptions that transport you to Doyle’s enchanting world.
It has to be said, reading a book that centres around the notions of Christmas being cancelled and the sadness of being kept apart from loved ones hits particularly strongly in 2020. On a more personal level, this will also be my first Christmas without my Gran, who passed away earlier this year, and reading about the beautiful relationship between George and his grandmother took on extra resonance as a result.
Bittersweet yet fun and ultimately uplifting, this middle grade novel is a welcome retelling that has enough references to the original to please long-term fans, while still being able to stand on its own merits.
Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday by Carol Ann Duffy
Published by Picador, 2014
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
There’s no real emotional or thematic weight to this poem; it simply follows Dorothy, sister of William Wordsworth, as she prepares to enjoy Christmas Day (which also happens to be her birthday) with her brother and their good friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Duffy paints vivid pictures of the wintry setting with some lovey imagery: “Ice, like a cold key, / turning its lock on the lake; / nervous stars trapped there”, and deftly captures the beauty of the quieter moments of domesticity that make the season so cosy and enticing: “The kitchen table, / set for this festive breakfast, / an unseen still life”; “The cat at his feet / licks at her black-and-white fur / rhyming purr with purr.”
Every stanza is its own individual haiku, but they all come together to form one narrative poem. To me this felt like a nod to the structure and tradition that many of us cherish on Christmas Day, the consistent rhythm and pace also giving the poem a flowing, gentle quality. Whatever the intention, it’s a nice structural device that, coupled with the simple language, makes this a pleasant, easy read.
Each of Duffy’s annual festive poems is fully illustrated by a different artist, and this one is no exception. Tom Duxbury’s expressive style and limited colour palette are gorgeous, perfectly suited to the comforting vibe of the poem itself.
This will be my last post before Christmas, so however you’re spending it this year, I hope you all have a safe, lovely time. I’ll be back afterwards with my December Wrap Up and my Top Reads of the Year!