Friday, December 18, 2009

A Story for the Holidays

from Jacqueline

It was in good old Target, in July, that I saw the first round of holiday season accoutrements at the checkout. Red plastic bags with a design of white snowflakes. It was 95 degrees outside. I’m more old fashioned. I like the Holidays to start closer to December, and I like the twelve days of Christmas, along with the tradition of leaving the tree adorned and in place until January 6th. And although we say “Happy Holidays,” I’m sorry, I’m more of a “Merry Christmas” person, given that where I grew up, the only other celebration was the winter ritual of Saturnalia – there were a few pagans lurking in those villages, you know. And frankly, I lean more towards celebrating the season rather than the event, with it’s tinsel-laden opportunities to reach out to those near and far with cards, emails, gifts, parties, telephone conversations and good cheer.

The newspapers – online and paper – tend to come up with the “feel good” stories at this time of year, those human interest snippets that make the heart sing or, perhaps, urge us to action for those less fortunate. This week I read a story about an organization in the UK which makes it possible for soldiers based overseas – and we know where most of them are at the moment, Afghanistan – to record stories for their children. Here’s what it says on the website:

“Across Afghanistan are secret caches of The Gruffalo, tattered and dusty copies of the children’s book hidden safely in British army rucksacks. While soldiers recover from the latest bout of fighting, army padres poke their heads through desert tents, asking if anyone wants to read a bedtime story to their children, 4,000 miles away.

Another favourite spot for recording is a British army ammunitions compound, where a dog-eared copy of The Night Before Christmas is the most popular right now. Soldiers sit alone with their book amid the stacks of bullets and explosives, whispering into a microphone about how “the children were nestled all snug in their beds”. Meanwhile, the warrant officer guards the door.

These recordings, edited free of sandstorm wind and the constant beating of helicopter blades, are now being played to soothe thousands of British babies, children, and teenagers missing their fathers this Christmas.

It’s part of a new service called Storybook Soldiers, offered by volunteers in the Army to try to close the family fracture caused by the conflict in Afghanistan. Although soldiers can send occasional e-mails and make even more occasional satellite phone calls, thousands of families have discovered that there is nothing more evocative than the sound of a parent’s voice, reading.”

I know that in both the USA and UK, military personnel are not drafted, it is their choice to serve in this way (though for many their choices are limited), but whether you support or abhor this war, the thought of a parent serving in the unforgiving terrain of Afghanistan reading a story for their child thousands of miles away makes the soul ache.

But there is something else, which as writers we are connected to in a fundamental way, and that is – once again – the power of story. Stories connect people, they give us another way to look at the world, to understand what has come to pass and what the future may hold. Stories bind communities and bring people together in so many ways. For all the ups and downs of the business, being a storyteller is as good as it gets, for my money.

So, with that in mind, who are you giving books to this holiday season, and what did you choose for them?

And if you see one of those bins where you can leave a gift for a child, or a soldier ... a book is a pretty good idea.


  1. I'm volunteering for a food and toy give-away this Saturday. I could easily slip a few books in those bags.

    As a child, I loved the book "The Littlest Angel" by Charles Tazewell. I also loved "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" by Robert L. May because it was written in verse. Those dogearred books are still in my library.

  2. We've sent close to 400 books to a combat support hospital in Iraq. That includes close to 100 kids' books that soldiers will read on video. The DVD and the book will then be sent home so the child can watch mom or dad read a bedtime story.

    If you would like to send a book to the hospital, here's the address:

    Maj Brett Sachse
    TF Al Asad
    47th Combat Support Hospital
    Unit # 73325
    Al Asad Air Base
    APO AE 09333

    It's a great thing to do.


  3. from Jacqueline

    Patty, good for you - what a great thing to do on the Saturday before Christmas! I still love "A Christmas Carol" - it's really the only Dickens I ever truly enjoyed! And I love "Rudolph" too!

    David, thank you for the address - I will send books this weekend and I am sure readers of this blog will be inspired by this work.

  4. We spent Thankgiving weekend with a Toys For Tots drive that my husband works with. Not as many books donated as I would have liked.

    I'm sending two very talented young writer friends in Seattle, ages 9 and 7 a couple of Ogden Nash books. I amused them over dinner with some of his silly verse, and they entertained me with the stories they were writing.

    But I can't think of Christmas giving without remembering my dad's favorite day; Boxing Day. He called it "a most civilized tradition."

    Merry Christmas,

  5. James O. Born12/18/2009 11:36 AM

    Our church, as most churches , sets up an "Angel Tree" and provides full sets of toys to kids who need thm. We go by the kid's requests which typically include bikes and toys. I'd make a big deal out of a book request.


  6. from Jacqueline

    Carson, I always celebrate Boxing Day - in fact, when I worked in "corporate America" I would always claim the day off as my cultural/religious holiday. It is a most civilized tradition.

    Jim, I love the idea of an Angel Tree. And wouldn't it be lovely to see a book request!