Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ideas for your holiday shopping pleasure

Feeling the pinch this holiday season? That economic crunch making your wallet a bit thin? Save some money by celebrating a true old-fashioned New England country Christmas.

Don't waste your money on presents, and leave all those evergreens outdoors where they belong. On December 25, go to work or school as usual. Oh, and if you're an employer and your staff takes the day off? Fire their little heathen butts!

Wait, wait, you say--that's not old-time New England; that's Ebenezer Scrooge before the three ghostly visitations. Well, old Mr. Scrooge would have fit right in with pre-Civil War rural New Englanders. Forget all those Currier & Ives visions of rosy-cheeked children hanging their stockings by the chimney with care and Clement Moore's "Visit from Saint Nicholas." Moore was a New Yorker and--gasp!--an Episcopalian--not quite as horrifically heathenish as a Catholic to those staunch Puritanically-descended New Englanders of the early 1800s, but pretty darned close.

While Christmas was being celebrated in the South and in some of the big northern cities like New York and Boston (which had growing populations of Catholics, Episcopalians, and non-Anglo immigrants), out in the New England countryside, Congregationalists and Baptists ruled the religious roosts. Like their Puritan ancestors, they wanted to distance themselves from anything that smacked of Catholic ritual--especially holidays that they considered to be ancient pagan celebrations thinly veiled in Christianity. In the 1830s and 1840s, rural New Englanders viewed Christmas celebrations with curiosity, mistrust, and sometimes open hostility. Businessmen were annoyed and frustrated when they went into cities like Boston and New York and found some of the stores and offices closed for Christmas. Some ministers even preached anti-Christmas sermons, arguing that Christmas celebrations (especially those involving large quantities of alcohol) did not honor Christ's birth, but were profane mockeries of true Christianity. But eventually Christmas infiltrated the countryside, too--hey, who can resist a chance for a day off work, a big pig-out, and presents, too?

For more than you'll ever want to know about Christmas in old New England, read these two articles at the Old Sturbridge Village Website:

Interpreting Christmas Traditions by Tom Kelleher

Christmas in New England Before 1860 by Jack Larkin

So don't stress over the holidays! Just tell your friends and family that you want to celebrate a traditional Christmas, just like they did back in the good ol' days, when all the men were strong, all the women had no rights whatsoever, and all the children worked 80 hours a week.

On the other hand, if you don't like your Christmas fantasies ruined, you can indulge them by checking out Old Sturbridge Village's Christmas by Candlelight, December 12-14 and 19-21. You can find out more about how Christmas was and wasn't celebrated in American cities and villages, how the celebration made its way from cities to the countryside, and learn the origins of some of our Christmas customs. And, best of all, if you come on December 12, you can come and say "hi" to me when I sign copies of A Difficult Boy at the OSV Bookstore! For information about the program, go to and click on the link for "Christmas by Candlelight."

(Can't make it to Sturbridge Village? Head over to my website , where you can find a list of booksellers carrying autographed copies of A Difficult Boy. Most of them will ship books to you.)



Of course, the perfect Christmas gift is always a book...especially if it's mine! But if you've already bought my book for yourself, your family, and your friends, you might get some gift ideas from this list of some of the books I've enjoyed over the past year or two:


Dennis Lehane - The Given Day (William Morrow) - The parallel stories of two men--one white and one black--caught up in the turmoil of post World War I Boston, from the influenza epidemic to red-baiting to the Boston police riot. Amazing historic research, fabulous characters, wonderful story-telling--my favorite book of 2008!!

Michael C. White - Soul Catcher (William Morrow) - A complex and wonderfully told story of a slave catcher and the runaway who challenges his path in life. My favorite book of 2007!

Judy Jaeger - The Secret Thief (Behler) - While helping her grandmother clear out her house, Connie Gray discovers that her family's history isn't quite as she's been lead to believe. A great read from a terrific new author!!

Khaled Hosseini - A Thousand Splendid Suns - Two Afghani women face unbelievable obstacles in their attempt to survive, first the Soviet invasion, then the tyranny of the Taliban.

Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina - Mr. & Mrs. Prince (Amistad) A wonderfully detailed biography of Lucy Terry Prince (America's first African-American poet) and her husband Abijah that brings Lucy and Abijah and their world to life. Beautifully told--this book will make readers completely re-think their pre-conceptions about blacks in New England.

Karen Shepard - Don't I Know You? (Harper Perennial) - A young single mother is killed, her body discovered by her 12-year-old son. The story is told from the point of view of three different characters, and each one gives you a different twist on the story and a different possible suspect.

Ted Kerasote - Merle's door: lessons from a freethinking dog (Harvest Books) - A man and his dog, with insights into dogness and a twelve-hankie ending.

Suzanne Strempek Shea - Sundays in America (Beacon) - The author spends a year exploring different Christian Sunday celebrations, examining her own views on faith in the process.

Melva Michaelian and Lorene Morin - A Walk on the Wide Side: Pride and Plumpness (XLibris) - A humorous celebration of diva-sized women and a wry commentary on America's obsession with thin-ness.

Anna C. Bowling - My Outcast Heart - (ebook - Kindle edition from - Left alone after the sudden death of her grandfather, Tabetha Small finds she must rely on a mysterious stranger if she wants to keep her home.

17 BOOKS FOR YOUNG ADULT READERS - for readers 12 and up ("up" includes adults, remember!!)

Jennifer Bradbury—Shift (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum) - Best friends go on a cross-country bike trip, but only one returns.

Teri Brown—Read My Lips (Simon & Schuster/Pulse) - Serena is a a deaf skater chick who uses her amazing lip-reading ability to infiltrate the popular crowd, take down a secret sorority and tame the school rebel.

Elizabeth Bunce—A Curse Dark as Gold (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine) - In this retelling of "Rumpelstiltskin," the miller's daughter of the fairytale comes to life as a young woman determined to save her family and her mill--whatever the cost. (Great for fans of romantic fantasy)

Terri Clark—Sleepless (HarperCollins/HarperTeen) - Teen psychic, Trinity Michaels, is being stalked in her sleep by a killer; if she dies in her dreams she'll die for real. (Great for fans of edgy, horror-tinged mysteries.)

Marissa Doyle—Bewitching Season (Henry Holt) - While making their debuts in 1837 London a pair of twin witches rescue the soon-to-be Queen Victoria from a dastardly plot...when they're not looking for Lord Right. (Great for fantasy and romance lovers)

Debbie Reed Fischer—Braless in Wonderland (Penguin/Dutton) - Allee Rosen falls down the rabbit hole and lands in the fab lane when she gets snapped up by modeling agents and whisked away to glamorous South Beach. Will the model life go to her head? (Great for fans of funny, edgy contemporary fiction)

Donna Freitas—The Possibilities of Sainthood (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) - To Antonia Lucia Labella, saints are like Catholic royalty and she wants her day as princess (and maybe a kiss from that cute boy down the street, too)--if only the Pope would just respond to her letters! (Great for those of you who remember Catholic school!)

Liz Gallagher—The Opposite of Invisible (Random House/Wendy Lamb) - A Seattle teenager wrestles with the difference between a crush and love, and love and best friendship.

Daphne Grab—Alive and Well in Prague, New York (HarperCollins/Laura Geringer) - Manhattanites Matisse Osgood and her artist parents move to upstate New York when her father's Parkinson's disease worsens, and Matisse must face high school in a small, provincial town as she tries to avoid thinking about her father's future.

Lisa Schroeder—I Heart You, You Haunt Me (Simon & Schuster/Pulse) - A novel in verse about love and grief in which a fifteen-year-old girl’s boyfriend, who is dead but not gone, is keeping her from moving on. (Great for reluctant readers.)

Regina Scott—La Petite Four (Penguin/Razorbill) - Lady Emily Southwell and her three dearest friends plan to take London by storm until they run afoul of a dashing young lord who may have more up his sleeve than a nicely muscled arm. (Great for fans of Regency romance)

Brooke Taylor—Undone (Bloomsbury/Walker) - A troubled teen fulfills the five enigmatic last wishes of her daring best friend only to discover the dark secrets of a shared past that she never knew. (Great for fans of edgy, dark fiction)

Zu Vincent—The Lucky Place (Front Street Press) - When you look at growing up through Cassie’s eyes, you see it differently.

D. Dina Friedman - Escaping into the Night ( Simon & Schuster) - Thirteen-year-old Halina Rudowski narrowly escapes the Polish ghetto and flees to the forest, where she is taken in by an encampment of Jews trying to survive World War II.

Michelle Kwasney - Baby Blue (Holt) - Still grieving and guilt-ridden over her father’s drowning, twelve-year-old Blue is dealt another blow when her older sister, Star, runs away to escape their stepfather’s violence against their mother.

Carrie Jones - Tips on Having a Gay (Ex) Boyfriend (Flux) - Belle, a high school junior, expects to marry her long-term boyfriend one day until he tells her and their entire small Maine town that he is gay, and both face prejudice and violence even as they enter new relationships and try to remain friends.

Sarah Aronson - Headcase (Roaring Brook) - Seventeen-year-old Frank Marder struggles to deal with the aftermath of an accident he had while driving drunk that killed two people, including his girlfriend, and left him paralyzed from the neck down.

15 BOOKS FOR READERS 9 AND UP (older readers will love these books, too, though!!)

Ellen Booraem—The Unnameables (Harcourt Children’s Books) - A boy and a goatman defy the establishment in a fantasy about belonging, the dangers of forgetting history, the usefulness of art, and the importance of wind control. (If you liked Lois Lowry's The Giver, you'll love this one!)

Jody Feldman—The Gollywhopper Games (HarperCollins/Greenwillow) - In the beginning there were 25,000 contestants; in the end, just five. Does Gil Goodson have what it takes to win The Gollywhopper Games? (If you liked Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you'll love this book!)

PJ Hoover—The Emerald Tablet (Blooming Tree Press) - Benjamin Holt's discovery of a new world explains his extraordinary powers, but also presents him with a challenge which changes his purpose in life forever. (Great for fantasy lovers)

Jenny Meyerhoff—Third Grade Baby (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) - Third grader Polly Peterson can't wait to finally lose her first tooth, but then she learns that third graders are too old for the tooth fairy.

N. A. Nelson—Bringing the Boy Home (HarperCollins) - Two young unforgiving shared destiny.

Stacy Nyikos—Dragon Wishes (Blooming Tree Press) - Dragon Wishes follows two girls across time on their quests for the greatest gift the last of the world's ancient dragons protects in the ominous Damei Mountains.

Sarah Prineas—The Magic Thief (HarperCollins) - A pickpocket and a wizard team up to solve a mystery of disappearing magic. (Great for fantasy lovers.)

Courtney Sheinmel—My So-Called Family (Simon & Schuster) - Leah Hoffman-Ross has a secret: she has a donor instead of a father, and now she's going in search of her half-siblings . . . even if she has to hide it from everybody else.

Laurel Snyder—Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains (Random House) - A snarky milkmaid, clumsy prince, sniffly prairie dog, and feisty milkcow venture deep into the Bewilderness, where they learn the value of friendship, honesty, government, and lunch.

Barrie Summy—I So Don’t Do Mysteries (Random House/Delacorte) - Sherry, short for Sherlock, wants more mall time, less homework and a certain boy, but instead gets recruited by her mother's ghost to prevent a rhino heist at San Diego's Wild Animal Park.

Kristin Tubb—Autumn Winifred Does Things Different (Random House/Delacorte) - Autumn Winifred Oliver, the feistiest girl in all of Appalachia, struggles against the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as it threatens the home that her family has farmed for generations.

Nancy Viau—Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head (Abrams/Amulet) - Sam is a ten-year-old, rock-loving scientist who must learn to keep a lid on her explosive temper so she can go on a “dream-come-true” trip to the Grand Canyon.

Annie Wedekind—A Horse of Her Own (Feiwel & Friends) - In one tumultuous and life-changing summer, fourteen-year-old Jane Ryan loses the horse she loves and is asked to help train a damaged, dangerous horse who used to be a champion. (Great for horse-loving girls)

Michelle D. Kwasney - Itch (Holt): After the death of her beloved Gramps, Delores "Itch" Colchester and her grandmother move from Florida to an Ohio trailer park, where she meets new people and, when she learns that a friend is being abused by her mother, tries her best to emulate her plain-spoken grandfather.

D. Dina Friedman - Playing Dad's Song (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) - While wrestling with memories of his father, who died when the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, eleven-year-old Gus, born into a family of musicians, starts taking oboe lessons, begins to compose music, and joins his sister in auditioning for a school musical.

(Note: most book descriptions taken from Library of Congress catalog descriptions.)

Whatever holidays you celebrate, I hope they're happy!

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