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The Independent Culture
MANY children write to Father Christmas, but how many get letters from him in return? For more than 20 years, though, the children of J R R Tolkien received mysterious letters and drawings from "Fr Chr", as he often signed himself - long and rather bothered stories about the antics of his helper, the accident-prone North Polar Bear, who would cause havoc with the packing by blowing out the northern lights, for instance, so that Fr Chr had to hire a comet to light his way. In Letters from Father Christmas, by J R R Tolkien and edited by Baillie Tolkien (Collins pounds 12.99), ten of the letters are reproduced in facsimile, to be pulled out of their envelopes, with Tolkein's drawings. Above: to John, in 1920, "I heard you ask Daddy what it was like where I lived. I have drawn me and my house for you..." An enjoyable, gifty curiosity, and strangely revealing about the child-like parts of the great man's mind.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski (Walker pounds 9.99), is for those who like their seasonal message hot, strong and sentimental. A woodcarver, a lonely widower, undertakes to carve a set of nativity figures for a young widow and her son. Time passes: he carves, she knits, and the little boy learns lessons in life; by the end, the village children no longer call him "Mr Gloomy". With beautiful painterly illustrations by P J Lynch; without the smallest dash of cynicism.

The paperback edition of Pat Thomson's A Cracker Full of Christmas Stories (Corgi pounds 2.99) provides plenty of enjoyable, middle-ability reading in the form of 12 stories that range from the traditional-in-feel ("Images in Bethlehem" by Grace Hallworth) to the contemporary ("Our classroom looked smashing" begins "The Christmas Party" by George Layton). Excellent value and variety; pain-free for reluctant readers.

A variation on the Nativity story in Spider's Christmas Gift by Melissa Kajpust (Viking pounds 9.99) for ages 7-12. A mother spider and her 40 children live in a stable in Bethlehem, where they spin healing webs around the wounds of sick animals, mend the roof, and all sorts of useful things. When one bold young spider sees the rich gifts being brought to the latest baby to be born there, he gives his mother an idea. Prettily illustrated by Veselina Tomova in the style of a middle-European folk-tale.