Stories the whole family can enjoy, whether you’re on the road or cozy at home.
By Jessica Dukes
Nothing gets us in the holiday spirit faster than sharing a heartwarming, magical story with family. Unexpected bookstore friendships, the history of a nutcracker soldier, and secret universes will entertain everyone — whether you’re heading over the river and through the woods or hosting the festivities at home.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, narrated by Tim Curry. 3 hours, 31 minutes.
Everyone knows this classic: On Christmas Eve, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by four spirits — his dead business partner, plus the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. Confronted by past humiliations and the consequences of his greed, Scrooge is transformed from a hateful old man to one who seeks forgiveness. Picking Tim Curry, the loveably wicked party host in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, to read the world’s favorite holiday ghost story is an inspired choice.
Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva, narrated by Euan Morton. 8 hours, 9 minutes.
Silva’s imaginative novel takes us behind A Christmas Carol, into Dickens’ inspiration for his most famous work. With money running low and his writing career looking grim, Dickens nearly says “Bah, humbug!” to it all when his publisher offers one last chance: write a Christmas story they can sell. Battling writer’s block, he wanders into town at night where he meets Eleanor Lovejoy, a woman who shows him the real London and forces him to examine his own life, too.
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald, narrated by Fiona Hardingham and Lorelei King. 12 hours, 10 minutes.
Sara, a 28-year-old Swedish woman, can’t wait to travel around the world to meet Amy, her 65-year-old friend in Iowa. They’ve been exchanging favorite books and rambling letters for years, so a meeting is long overdue. Sadly, when Sara arrives in Iowa, Amy has unexpectedly passed away. In Amy’s honor and with the support of the community, Sara opens a bookstore with Amy’s books and builds a new life for herself. After the parties and the gifts, stories like this are a beautiful reminder to cherish the friends we’ve lost and the new ones who step in when you need them the most.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, narrated by Barbara Caruso. 19 hours, 37 minutes.
With their father working as a pastor in the Civil War, four sisters and their mother face their first Christmas alone, determined to enjoy the simple pleasures of the season. Meg and Jo, the older sisters, work to support the rest of the family: younger sisters Beth and Amy, plus their mother. Through scarcity, illness, and even romance, the women persevere for an entire year, until their father returns from the war the following Christmas.
The World that We Knew by Alice Hoffman, narrated by Judith Light. 10 hours, 8 minutes.
Desperate to protect her daughter, Lea, from the Nazis, Hanni arranges a Golem to be created. The mystical creature made of clay is alive, named Ava, and she protects Lea on their dangerous escape to France. Survival is a battle between good and evil, not just for Lea and Ava, but also for Ettie, the young rabbi’s daughter who created Ava. If you’re looking for a story about the awe-inspiring power of love, this is it.
Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days by Jeanette Winterson, narrated by Imogen Church. 9 hours, 9 minutes.
Winterson puts her own spin on the magic of the season in these beautiful short stories. If you think flying reindeer are something, imagine talking tinsel, a take-charge SnowMama, and some extra-powerful mistletoe. Also present: plenty of ghosts! Sprinkled throughout, Winterson includes her favorite holiday recipes for things like mince pies, red cabbage, smoked salmon, turkey biryani, cheese crispies, and fish cakes.
Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker by Gregory Maguire, narrated by Stephen Crossley. 10 hours, 4 minutes.
Maguire continues to create fantastic backstories to enduring fairy tales, now with a holiday icon: the nutcracker soldier. Drosselmeier, a German toymaker, has no enviable status in life. When he hears of a sick little girl in town, he uses the only skill he has in an implausible attempt to help. He carves a wooden nutcracker soldier and breathes magic into it with instructions to care for Klara through a troubling holiday season. Throughout all of their struggles, one truth stands out: Everyone has something to give. Precisely when everyone counts you out, that’s when your magic emerges.
Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien, narrated by Derek Jacobi, John Moffatt, and Christian Rodska. 2 hours, 7 minutes.
As if having J. R. R. Tolkien as a dad wasn’t cool enough, apparently he pulled out all the stops for the holidays. Every year, the Tolkien children would write letters to Father Christmas, and every year they would receive mail from the jolly man himself. Unique, illustrated, hand-written letters describe life at the North Pole, which includes goblin wars, secret ice caves, rampant polar bears, and mischievous reindeer. Collected over 20 years, we’re so fortunate that the Tolkien family has shared these personal holiday treasures with the world.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, narrated by January LaVoy. 12 hours, 20 minutes.
January Scaller lives with Mr. Locke, a wealthy eccentric who regards her as just another curio in his sprawling home. Upon discovering a book that holds the secret to other worlds, January asks herself if she’s brave enough to change her boring and secluded life forever. Thankfully for us she is, because with each door she opens, with each adventure she survives, we get to see an alternative reality. Eventually, January finds a door that leads to her own past, exposing the story behind her mother’s death and her absent father. January’s courage and self-reflection is something to inspire us all as the year comes to a close.