Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The True Story of Christmas by Anne Fine

It is Christmas Day and 11 year old Ralph William Mountfield has been banished to his room and now, he wants to tell us his side of what happened.

It all begins on Christmas Eve with a houseful of visiting dysfunctional relatives, including tattle-tale Titania, Ralph's cousin, whom her mother swears is "gifted" but most of us would just say annoying and obnoxious with her parents; twins Sylvia and Sylvester, whirlwinds of destruction who show up unexpectedly with their parents; Uncle Tristtam, troublemaker par excellence and who gives each twin a wrapped up half a brick for Christmas; Mr. Fix-it Grandpa, who sings to the dog while he "fixes" things; crusty Great Granny who has a snarky word for everyone; bonkers Great-Aunt Ida who had an imaginary visit from the vicar as he floated past her window that morning; and of course, Ralph's mom Tansy, dad James and older brother Harry.  Oh, yes, and Albert the boy who lives next door but is always at the Mountfields home.

So, Christmas Eve goes relatively (no pun intended) well - just one megatrantrum courtesy of the twins, dinner gets on the table, and later some rather odd letters to Santa are written and Uncle Tristam wraps his bricks.

Christmas morning - Ralph and Titania get some strange responses to their letters to Santa; the oven door won't stay closed so the turkeys can cook, and Ralph's mom makes Ralph's dad sign in blood a promise that next year there would be no Christmas relatives because they will be away somewhere in holiday.  But presents get open, and dinner gets done.

So how did Ralph end up banished to his room on Christmas Day?  Well, it all began with Aunt Susan's suggestion of having Christmas Quiz about the family....Need I say more?

 I was reading this book on a long train ride and somewhere alone the line (again, no pun intended) I found myself laughing out loud.  Anne Fine has such a fine hand with irony, a wicked sense of humor and is a master at plots and subplots.  You may even recognize some of your own relatives in her exaggerated characterizations of Ralph's family as he unravels his Christmas tale.

Not everyone will like this book.  But if you enjoy Roald Dahl, you will probably like this story.  And unlike the Wormwoods in Matilda, for example, Ralph, Harry, mom and dad do form a very loving family, and you see it despite the dysfunction going on around them.   Still, I wonder how many of us can count a few relatives that remind us of some of our own?  I know I have a few.

The True Story of Christmas is a short chapter book, great for reading aloud to your kids.  And I think you will find that amid all the sweet, sentimental holiday books that make you go ahh and feel good inside (and don't get me wrong, I like those as well), this is a story that would tickle even Scrooge's funny bone.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness this sounds very like the Christmas I’ve just lived through. I swear next year will be spent on a desert island. Anne Fine is such a fine writer. I must put this on my new Christmas list – it would be great on that desert island!


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