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  • Wendy Percival

Books at Christmas


This week saw the 175th anniversary of the publication of Charles Dickens's classic seasonal story, A Christmas Carol. My copy of this perennial favourite belonged to my mum and she'd received it from her mum as a Christmas present in 1944, when Mum would have been 9 years old. I know that because there's a dedication written inside:

To my dear little Pat.

With love and my very best wishes for a very happy Xmas &

prosperous New Year.

Mommie 1944

Underneath, in her best handwriting, Mum had written, This book belong to Pat - Barton.

The edition had been published that same year and was illustrated by Emil Weiss. His wonderful images have always stayed with me and I recall being particularly fascinated by the one of Marley's face on the door-knocker.


Emil Weiss was born in 1896 in what is now the Czech Republic and trained as an architect in Vienna. With the rise of the Nazis he sought refuge in England and became an illustrator, finding work wherever he could – propaganda posters, illustrations for Czech publications and portrait sketches (as in the style of this, his self-portrait, left, from 1960).

While he was working for the Daily Telegraph he met children's author Rose Fyleman who invited him to illustrate a series of books she was writing at the time. Weiss would go on to illustrate around 40 books for children during his career, though it's for his excellent portrait sketches of well-known people that he is best remembered.

As I read the dedication in the book, I wondered how often people still write them these days. As an author, I regularly sign my books for readers who buy them directly from me but of the books on my packed shelves, I can think of only a handful which have a dedication.

So, with my mum's copy of A Christmas Carol having become such precious item of family history, we've made a point of writing a message on the flyleaf of the books we're giving as presents this Christmas. I wonder if they'll stand the test of time in the same way!

And what about you? Do you write a dedication inside the books that you give?


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