CHRISTMAS BELLS by Jennifer Chiaverini

November 7, 2015
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Click to purchase

I figured if I keep reading Christmas novels, eventually I’ll find one I can rave about…and here it is!

This book is a twofer – two stories told in alternating chapters that are set over a hundred years apart. The obvious inspiration of the historical story neatly focuses the modern day one, and I loved them both.

“Christmas Bells” is a Henry Wordsworth Longfellow poem (see below) that was turned into a Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Chiaverini tells the story of how the poem came to be written, which is a mostly a biography of Longfellow, and she does a terrific job. Starting at the beginning of the Civil War, right before the first shots are fired, we learn how Longfellow lived, the tragedies that befell him and his family, and about his home and its historical significance in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The alternating stories are about St. Margaret’s, a Catholic church in the nearby town of Watertown. Sophia is a music teacher whose job is threatened by budget issues. She also is the children’s choir director at the church. Her accompanist is in love with her, but it is an unrequited love due to various factors. Stories also are spun about two of the children in the choir, Charlotte and her younger brother, whose father is serving in Afghanistan.

One of the most memorable characters in the modern day story is Sister Winifred, a nun who has the rather unnerving habit of talking to herself. But she also has the uncanny ability to ferret out truths about her parishioners and the priest that seem other-worldly, or perhaps divine?

This is heartwarming, of course, but also fascinating and beautifully written. This will be the Christmas book I”ll be recommending this season.

11/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

CHRISTMAS BELLS by Jennifer Chiaverini. Dutton (October 27, 2015).  ISBN 978-0525955245. 336p.



I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day
 Their old, familiar carols play,
 And wild and sweet
 The words repeat
 Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
 And thought how, as the day had come,
 The belfries of all Christendom
 Had rolled along
 The unbroken song
 Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
 Till ringing, singing on its way,
 The world revolved from night to day,
 A voice, a chime,
 A chant sublime
 Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
 Then from each black, accursed mouth
 The cannon thundered in the South,
 And with the sound
 The carols drowned
 Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
 It was as if an earthquake rent
 The hearth-stones of a continent,
 And made forlorn
 The households born
 Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
 And in despair I bowed my head;
 “There is no peace on earth,” I said;
 “For hate is strong,
 And mocks the song
 Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
 Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
 “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
 The Wrong shall fail,
 The Right prevail,
 With peace on earth, good-will to men.”




November 10, 2014

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Illustrated by David Slonim

Let’s be honest here; as holidays go, Christmas has December covered. Sure, there’s New Years, and we may celebrate it on the eve of December 31st, but the legal holiday falls on the day, January 1.

Then there’s Kwanza and Chanukah. I don’t know a whole lot about Kwanza other than it is a fairly recent holiday. On the other hand, I grew up with Chanukah and still celebrate, so I’m much more familiar with that holiday. So I feel confident when I tell you that books on the holiday, children’s books in particular, are few and far between.

So when I heard about this Dreidel book, I was intrigued. Yes, my kids are beyond the age for picture books, but I’m not and I was delighted to get my hands on this one.

I don’t review many children’s books, but I make a few exceptions. Probably the last children’s book I reviewed was also a Chanukah book, Chanukah Lights, a beautiful pop up art book by Michael Rosen and incomparable Robert Sabuda. Frankly, the Dreidel book is not in that league, but nonetheless it is a fun read and sure to be enjoyed by any family celebrating Chanukah.

The book is based on the children’s classic, There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, and there are probably dozens of variations and illustrations of that book. But an old lady who swallows a dreidell, well, that is something special!

If you are looking for a Chanukah gift for your favorite child, please consider adding this lovely and fun book to your shopping list. Your recipient will be sure to thank you, in between peals of laughter.

By the way, this year we light the first candle on Tuesday, Dec. 16 at sunset.

11/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

I KNOW AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A DREIDEL by Caryn Yacowitz, illustrated by David Slonim. Arthur A. Levine Books (August 26, 2014). ISBN 978-0439915304. 32p.