Children’s Christmas Stories: Wendy’s Favorite

Wendy Lawton

Blogger:  Wendy Lawton

Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office

The Bird’s Christmas Carol by Kate Douglas Wiggin was my all-time favorite children’s Christmas book.  Written in 1888 it is the story of a girl born on Christmas day who is appropriately named Carol after the faint strains of Christmas carols her mother heard coming from a nearby church while giving birth. Her parents and family of brothers cherish Carol, who, rather than being spoiled by all the attention, is sensitive and generous. She is struck with an illness and by the time she is ten years old, she is bedridden with the fatal disease. But even struggling for her life her focus is on others and she is still concerned about all those who suffer.

Her last Christmas on earth Carol decides that instead of a birthday party she wants to give a party for the poor Ruggles family and their nine children. Her whole family helps make her wish come true before she quietly slips away listening to the same faint carols that ushered her into the world.


I know. It sounds like Victorian sentimentality but it is so much richer than I described it. Confession: all the books I loved as a child were “good girl” books. Wiggin was also the writer of another favorite, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Pollyanna, Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables—these were the books of my childhood. With today’s fare of madcap adventures, fantasy and gritty reality I’m all for a dose of kindness and sentimentality. This would be a great book to read with a middle grader.

Bird's Christmas CarolIn my days as a dollmaker I immortalized all the Childhood Classics® that were in the public domain or for which we could get a license.  Bird’s Christmas Carol is no exception. In 1996 I sculpted Carol Bird exactly the way I pictured her when I was a bookish ten-year-old.

The last sentence of the book still moves me: “And so the old years, fraught with memories, die, one after another, and the new years, bright with hopes, are born to take their places; but Carol lives again in every chime of Christmas bells that peal glad tidings and in every Christmas anthem sung by childish voices.”

Writers tip: Though “sentimental” books for children are out of favor these days we need to learn from the classics. We loved them because we identified with the protagonists. Yes, the emotional aspects touched that maudlin part of us but it made us face the transitory state of our earthly lives and the importance of eternal life. All heady stuff to ten-year-olds.

Question: What about you? Did you have sentimental favorites from the late Victorian era, Christmas or not? What about “good girl” books? Are they still enjoyed by girls today?

15 Responses

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  1. Wow, never read that book but just reading your paraphrase of it makes me want to go find it and read it. I love good girl books. They make me want to become a better person.

  2. I never realized this until Janet posted: I never read a Christmas book when I was a kid. I think that’s because of my parents’ aversion to depictions of Christ. And I never bought Christmas books for my children, probably for the same reason. I never told my children there was a Santa Clause and I never wanted them to confuse Jesus with comic book heroes so I didn’t have a reason to buy Christmas books.

    I did love good girl books, though. The only novels I’ve read that I consider Victorian are The Five Little Peppers. I loved them. I was not a good girl myself. I was quite awful. But I was charmed by the simpler lives of the characters and their high moral standards. I wished I was like they were.

    So I think good girl books are enjoyable and needed. God adds to the church daily those that are being saved. The ones who are being saved will yearn after the good, I think.

    The reader does have to identify with the protagonist, as you say. There has to be some flaw the character is aware of. It didn’t matter to me that Phronsie worried about things I didn’t even think were bad. She thought they were bad and I knew what it was to worry about bad things you’ve done. So I could relate to the Peppers even though I was smoking and drinking and they were doing things like eating a cookie they hadn’t asked for. They lived in a different world than I did, but they felt the same conflicts and emotions.

  3. I loved that book too! I’ve thought about it from time to time but haven’t seen a copy of it since that childhood book (which we probably ordered from Scholastic; we got most of our books from the library. That was one of the few I remember owning).

    It’s hard making a transition to contemporary books sometimes. While I can see not making things overly sentimental (especially since I have boys), I find myself annoyed that “gritty” is often inappropriate (language, attitudes, behavior, etc.). Books used to help reinforce good values; many now seem to undermine them.

    Thanks for the reminder of Carol Bird’s Christmas though! (And the others you named were favorites of mine as well. But you’d have to add Little Women.)

  4. At first, I wanted to say emphatically, “No, I find good girl books boring.” But then Sally’s post made me remember all the classic kid books I read and liked, even though I wasn’t a good girl. Then, I had no trouble with them. Now, when I talk to my students, some say they like them but they’re “not their favorites” and some say they’re boring. I prefer the good-at-heart-making-her-way girl books who makes mistakes and find the consequences are not what she wanted. The Penderwicks and the Callahan Cousins are favorites of mine for the new “good-girl” type. They have some flaws, yet seem like someone who would like me. (Did I really just type that? Wow. The power of a book.)

  5. Judy Gann says:

    I can’t believe it! The Bird’s Christmas Carol is my favorite children’s Christmas story, too. I almost left a comment about it on Janet’s post yesterday.

    We have copies of it in the library, but unfortunately few children read it today.

    One of my favorite modern children’s Christmas stories is The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. Our local theater is doing the play this Christmas season and I hope to attend.

  6. Lynn Dean says:

    When I think of Christmas books, Beatrix Potter’s Tailor of Gloucester comes to mind. It has no Christian message that I can tell, but I think the illustrations charmed me. My all time favorite, though, would have to be Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Very Victorian, eh?

    I do think there’s still a market for good girl/morality type stories. Many home schooled girls have enjoyed the Elsie Dinsmore books, and I could not help but notice that Glenn Beck’s Christmas Sweater is selling well in the secular market. Extremely sentimental, and with a strong spiritual theme (though whether it’s Christian is arguable)–the sort of story inspirational writers would have trouble selling, yet it has sold well on secular shelves. Hmmm…not sure how to interpret that.

  7. I remember that book! I can picture the cover.

    I got a $1 copy of it through a Scholastic book order when I was in grade school. I didn’t remember the story until you shared it, but I remember the cover very well. I held on to that book for years.

    My favorite Christmas story is hearing Linus read Luke 2 in Charlie Brown’s Christmas movie every year. I had a student who had a similar voice, and I loved hearing him read!

  8. My father was a bachelor during my growing up years, and although there were never any children’s books around, he did read to me. Our Christmas story was “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, which I recall being very touched by. Even though he was not a religious man, I still came away knowing that Christmas was special, with a special kind of love that was somehow better than the everyday kind. However, I will admit that my eight-year-old mind was convinced the printers must have made a mistake and left the c off the word magi — all the way through the whole story! I had no prior knowledge of the three kings to hang the reference on, and it wasn’t until many years later that I discovered the true meaning of Christmas.

    But I am thankful that there are writers out there who can build “bridges” that even non-believers can experience in such a wonderful way that we — in spite of our various environments — can recognize that there is something more, and go looking for it. I also find it interesting that so many of those wildly popular stories from earlier times had nothing in them that couldn’t be read to children. The reason for not reading something back then was more because a child was not intellectually up to it; not because there was something so profane or horrifying inside that they needed to be shielded from it.

    Just as an aside, I have often thought it would be an interesting experiment to have a parallel reading of some of these older classics alongside what children are being read these days. We might be surprised to find they’d rather look up than down, sometimes (don’t we all?). And as for “good” books with good characters –I agree with Morgan — love any book that makes me want to be a better person.

  9. Jill Kemerer says:

    Oh yes! I loved Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and Anne of Green Gables. I read so many wonderful “good girl” books, all of the “Shoes” books, Little House, you name it. I’ve never read the book you mentioned, and I’m adding it to my library list. Thanks for the head’s up!

  10. Jean Hall says:

    Christmas books? My favorite is a relatively new picture book by Kate DiCamillo (illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline) — Great Joy. It reminds me that true Christmas joy comes from the love and community that flows freely at that time.

    Lovely little book.


  11. Megan Sayer says:

    As a child I missed many of those classics. My own daughter has just turned 7 though, and together we’ve read Mary Poppins, Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, and we’re about to finish Heidi (who knew that had a salvation scene in it??). I’m loving them; so much richer language, nicer stories, and better morals than the modern fare.

    I’ll have to hunt down this one, sounds lovely.

  12. I’ve never read The Bird’s Christmas Carol. I don’t recall ever reading a book when I was very young that had a protagonist die although my favorite Christmas book was about an angel–guess it was an after-life book. The Littlest Angel is still a favorite to read and think about in terms of what I can give to celebrate His birth.

  13. I know I’m a day late getting in on this conversation, but my favorite “good girl” book was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I loved the idea that someone could have all the best the world had to offer, yet remain sweet and unspoiled. She then had the worst the world had and didn’t become bitter or angry. Unrealistic, yes, but I loved it anyway. I think it taught me to smile through the good and the bad. Not a bad lesson for a young girl!

  14. My most favored books were either about dogs or horses so I never read the good girl books, other than Little House ones and Louisa May Alcott. I read all of hers and the Five Little Peppers. The Littlest Angel was one I loved but the one the stuck the most was Angel Unaware, not a children’s book but how I loved and cried through that story, but come to think of it, I think I was an adult by that time. I don’t think I owned a book before the age of ten or so when we moved to Washington Sate. I read voraciously from the school library and then the public one. I might go find this book to read now.

  15. jane g meyer says:

    What fun, a new book (another classic I’ve missed!) to find at the library. Thanks, Wendy…

    It’s true that there are mostly wild adventure stories on the market for our kids these days, but one of my favorite new families to follow is the Penderwicks–there are two books out now. These are good girl stories, old fashioned, yet ripe with lively language and spunk. Not only do I love both books, as does my 13 year-old daughter, but my son, now 16 (a big reader) enjoyed these books when younger. If another comes out we’ll be pre-ordering and all reading aloud together…