Set in grimy Depression-era industrial cities in northern England, these two holiday tales from a veteran British writer (The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral, 1993, etc.) give young readers something to really cut their teeth on. In ""The Christmas Ghost,"" a young boy receives a warning from a ghost on Christmas Eve that helps him prevent a tragic accident at his father's factory. (The ghost -- the plant's late owner, a good-hearted Jewish industrialist -- happens to look just like Santa Claus, an intended irony on Westall's part.) The second story, ""The Christmas Cat,"" is narrated by a spunky girl spending a dreary Christmas vacation with her bachelor uncle, an Anglican vicar, and his stern housekeeper. It's a sort of urban version of The Secret Garden in which the girl unlocks her uncle's rigid heart -- and gets the tyrannical housekeeper fired -- with the aid of a mischievous working-class boy and a pregnant stray cat. The first story gets off to a slow start, with a lot of nostalgic folderol about the traditional trappings of an English Christmas, but once Westall's storytelling kicks into high gear the book is enormously involving. Westall doesn't pander to young readers -- they have to be able to translate his Britishisms and have some sense of history -- but the end result is richly detailed, atmospheric, and deeply imagined fiction.