Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Short Stories on Wednesdays - Christmas Every Day and Other Stories by William Dean Howells (plus a poem)

80. Christmas Every Day and Other Stories
Told For Children
by William Dean Howells
juvenile fiction - short story collection, 1892
third children's book for The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge
Kindle book, 48
finished, 12/20/11

Not every story in this most delightful collection is about Christmas but each one is a little Christmas present.

I 'bought' (it was free) this for the Kindle, on a whim, thinking it would be nice to read some old stories. Well, they may be old but they are fresh, and great fun to read. There's nothing stuffy about the way Mr. Howells tells a story. Usually the narrator is a father, or an uncle begged by one or more children to tell a story.
... the little girl had snuggled in his lap into just the right shape for listening.
Don't you just love that line?

These children are very funny. They are impertinent, demanding, and they 'pound' our kindly storyteller when he tells about pigs, or pretends to forget, or makes a bad joke. The reader is able to sense the great love between the teller of tales and his young listeners. I was reminded of the wonderful Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, The Children's Hour.

Between the dark and the daylight,
When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupations,
That is known as the Children's Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
O'er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
And moulder in dust away!

Along with the warmth, there is a great deal of wit and humor in these tales, with a quiet, little moral, if he is able to slip it in without the children being aware, for they hate morals to stories. Christmas Every Day tells what life would be like if it were Christmas all year long. I know that even I, grownup that I am, feel a sadness to let December go. I love the bustle and the lights and really, every single thing about these days coming up to Christmas. In fact I just told someone that I wish there were two Decembers in the year. But would I really be happy if it were Christmas every single day of the year? In the story, as the days go by, everyone gets 'crosser,' and
at the end of a week's time so many people had lost their tempers that you could pick up lost tempers anywhere; they perfectly strewed the ground. Even when people tried to recover their tempers they usually got someone else's, and it made the most dreadful mix.
All the shopkeepers got rich, while the buyers got poorer and poorer, and had to go to the 'poor-house.' Care isn't being taken anymore in wrapping and labeling gifts.
people didn't carry around presents nicely any more. They flung them over the fence, or through the window, or anything. ... Nearly everyone had built barns to hold their presents, but pretty soon the barns overflowed, and then they used to let them lie out in the rain, or anywhere.
And because all the best story times between parent and child involve conversations, the little girl says:
"I thought you said everybody had gone to the poor-house."
"They did go, at first," said her papa; "but after a while the poor-houses got so full that they had to send the people back to their own houses."
And on it goes, until the little girl is perfectly content with the ending.

The participation of the children continues in a tale called Butterflyflutterby and Flutterbybutterfly. There are orphan twins, a prince and princess, and one child remembers which name belongs to the prince, and the other to the princess, so that when the uncle reads along, one of them pipes up with the proper name.

I hope that you can see from these little examples the joy and fun and cleverness of the stories. I can well imagine that a child of 2011 would enjoy them as much as did a child in 1892. I enjoyed them so much that I am going to buy a print copy with illustrations. This is a book I'll happily read over and over again.

I've added several more books by Howells to my Kindle library, including one for the Venice in February challenge called Venetian Life.

Short Stories on Wednesdays is hosted by Breadcrumb Reads.

This lovely book is offered for the Visions of Sugarplums section of The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge.


  1. I love the quote about lost tempers and the vision of the little girl in his lap in the right shape for listening. I don't blame you for buying the book; I hope the illustrations live up to the charm of the text.

  2. Barbara, that is just the right word, 'charm' - perfect.

  3. Absolutely wonderful words! I too love the lines about lost tempers. And I loved the poem! Thanks for sharing this post Nan. Project Gutenberg has 50 by this author! I am off to download!

  4. "just the right shape for listening" is indeed wonderfully put.

    I haven't heard Howells's name in many years, but I once read his novel, The Rise of ask as Lapham, which I enjoyed very much. I was unaware of his stories - until now. Thank you. :-)


  5. Nor do I blame you for buying the book, Nan. The stories seem as relevant today as in 1892 (tossing presents over the fence brought to mind the recent story in the news of the UPS driver tossing a package over the fence).

    Thank you for posting The Children's Hour. I'd forgotten it and it felt so good to hear it again. I say hear, because I read it aloud to myself.

    PS How were the potato chip cookies? I haven't made those in ages.

  6. Thanks for sharing this story! I might sneak this into my reading list before Christmas comes. :)

  7. Yes, Peggy there are a lot of his books available online and also via Kindle. I was so taken with the way he writes that I look forward to more.

    Jay, that is probably his most famous book, but he wrote tons! Really lots of books. It is so much fun to discover an old author.

    Penny, this collection is really a delight. I hadn't heard the UPS story but it doesn't surprise me. I do love that poem, too. And the spirit of it is quite like these stories.
    The cookies were great. You'll love them.

    Jeri, the whole collection is lovely.

  8. Oh thank you for sharing this, Nan. It sounds lovely! I think I'm going to go search for Howells after I post this. I'd never heard of him until now. The stories sound simply delightful! And I love the poem by heartwarming!

  9. Thank you Ann and Risa, I'm enjoying these old authors. There's a lot of good writing out there from a long time ago.

  10. Really Nan your bog has brought me so much pleasure. I love this Howells story and I thought it was so funny when I found it years ago. But there was never anyone to share it with before! I love visualizing the events and people in this story. Thanks for the blog.

  11. Pam - and I thank you for your words. I'm so happy to learn that you also know this wonderful story.

  12. Loved this post too, Nan. I'm thinking I should recommend my daughter 'buy' this for her Kindle so she can share it with her own little daughter when she gets a little older. :)

    '...just the right shape for listening...' A wonderful line.

  13. Yvette, the little one might like a real, illustrated book better! like me. :<)

  14. Howells is totally new to me, and
    I love the title Venetian Life. So glad you're joining in, and thanks for sharing new ideas for me/us, Nan!

  15. He lived there for a while, Bellezza, so I expect it to be fun reading.


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