‘Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday’ by Carol Ann Duffy

It is Christmas Eve, 1799, and Dorothy Wordsworth is awake in the dead of night. She stands outside in the winter cold, waiting patiently.

When the new day breaks it will bring family and friends to Dorothy’s door. For tomorrow is a double joy: tomorrow is her Christmas Birthday.

Carol Ann Duffy’s wonderful poem Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday takes us to the frozen landscape of the Lake District, where a merry celebration is about to begin in the Wordsworths’ cottage.

Gorgeously illustrated by Tom Duxbury, this festive poem evokes the snowy Lake District as Dorothy celebrates her birthday with her brother William Wordsworth and fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The combination of Carol Ann Duffy’s verse with Tom Duxbury’s illustrations makes ‘Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday’ a charming book to spend time with as we head towards Christmas.

Duffy’s words are crisp, clear and not as simple as they seem. Duxbury’s illustrations, which have the naive charm of woodcuts but with a richer, slightly fantastic colour palette, complement and enhance the text.

Here’s an example that shows what I mean. It describes Dorothy, up late at the gate of Dove Cottage in the snowbound Lake District, restlessly waiting for her Christmas Day birthday to arrive.

I love this line:

Dorothy Wordsworth ages
one year in an hour;

It makes you pause and think again about what is happening.

The image is both as simple and as stylised as the text and takes me immediately to a cold winter’s midnight in the Lakes.

This is a short book, only forty-nine pages, including the illustrations, but that was long enough for me to feel that I’d joined Dorothy and her brother and their friend, Coleridge for a simple but important feast.

If you’re looking for a last-minute stocking filler, consider getting hold of the hardback version of this charming book.

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