Posted by: francesthomas | November 30, 2010

Children, Books and Christmas – Dahlian Kirby

(posted by Frances Thomas)


When my nephew was a very little boy, being bathed by his mum, she asked him what he wanted for Christmas. He said he didn’t know. She then suggested, as he loved books so much, that he might like some books for Christmas. At that little Martyn burst into tears and cried out “Books should just be free like food!” His point, I believe, is that books sustain us and should not be looked upon as a treat.

When I was a little girl all those thousands of years ago I loved getting toys for Christmas. Best of all though, I loved sticker books with pictures of Christmas trees and decorations. And comic annuals. My friend Robin always got better ones than me, and as he lived over the road from me, I was guaranteed to be reading the Dandy annual by about  ten o’clock. One may wonder why I didn’t ask my lovely parents for a Dandy annual, if that was what I really wanted. Well, there was no need, The dandy annual was there for free in Robin’s house.

As a child ( and as an adult) I have always felt sorry for children who get given clothes for Christmas. It seems like they are getting something akin to a few loaves of bread and their share of he electricity bill paid. I really do believe that toys and Christmas sticker books are the real treasures, with a selection box or two thrown in of course.

When I hit my teen years I loved books about horses, and started to like collections of books: all the same height with the same colour spines. Luckily that phase passed, I then went for cowboy books ( yes I am embarrassed) then horror, Agatha Christie and by the time I was seventeen Russian novels. Now I think the books I like best are the ones with good pictures, the age on the cover usually suggests that they are best for three to five year olds. Ones about animals with a sentimental or moral twist. I love cock-a-ddodle-hooooooo! A book about an owl who went to live with some hens.

Is a particularly lovely, funny and for me moving story. But then I have a bit of a thing about books about chickens.

Last year I bought several Michael Morpurgo   books, supposedly written for children for perfect for adults- The Mozart Question is fantastic, with wonderful pictures too.

Adults buy books for children they like themselves, the Harry Potter books have been enduring proof of this. But why not? Why not give someone something you like yourself? I tend to buy books from Welsh publishers, partly because I want to support small companies and mostly because there are some very good books produced in this country. But also, if the receiver lives outside of Wales, they probably haven’t already read it.

Sometimes when I am working in one of the schools where I teach I sit in the school library and call out suggestions to children choosing books – when I should really be doing something else! They are inevitably books by either Welsh Children’s writers or Michael  Morpurgo  . When I suggest that these children ask their parents for books as Christmas, Eid or birthday presents they look at me as if I am mad. Like Martyn all those years ago, they think books should just turn up with the cornflakes. They might be right. So we grow up people should be buying the younger generation toys and selection boxes and all manner of electric gadgets. But don’t forget to buy children books. Books are nourishment and are satisfying. And besides, if you don’t buy books for the children, what will you have to read on Boxing Day?



  1. Good point – I remember blissful Christmases as a child curled up with a book and chocolates from the selection box. I still have a feeling of disappointment if I don’t get any books as presents. It’s a shame that publishing companies don’t have the budgets to compete with the advertising space that electronic gadgets companies take up on the run up to Christmas.

    Michael Morpurgo – genius.

  2. Oh yes! I remember being given box-sets for Christmas, usually things like St Claire’s or Malory Towers. I remember lying in bed feeling the weight of my socking by prodding it with my toes and wondering if it was heavy enough to include my latest book-craze in box-set form.

  3. Sorry my name comes up so huge at the beginning – inept blog management.

    I used to love those Christmas annuals. No-one used to give me books ,though, but after Christmas, we’d go on a bus trip to Hatchards and I’d spend my Christmas money on books. What a treat.

  4. I was so fortunate to have an enormous collection of books as a child and still have most of them now. One of my particular fabvourites was Peace at Last (by Jill Murphy). Toys were probably my favourite present but I always enjoyed having a story read to me and think that is a great thing for parents to do with their children. However, I have met many children who do not own a book and never have a story read to them – such a shame!

  5. Martyn was so right! That comment is so telling …. of a childhood where the ready availability and enjoyment books are simply an intrinsic part of everyday life, and are taken for granted – the suggestion of books as a special gift seems outrageous to the perceptive child.
    To have an upbringing where books are part of the fabric of life is a gift. I was always given books as a child for christmas, and even though I can remember years when I didnt get a wished-for toy, it did help me complete my collections, and also introduced me to books I might not have spent my own pocket money on, and therefore widened my reading. Now I am a voracious reader and have had many hours of enjoyment from books over a lifetime habit formed in the early years – this is the real gift which was given to me.

    Great article, Dahlian, very thought provoking.

  6. My favourite Christmas books were the Dalek annuals given by my godparents. Which explains a lot.

  7. I agree that books should be just ‘there’, as much a part of life as eating and breathing, but at the same time I love receiving them as presents!

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