Reviews and discussion on various books about Christmas, Santa and related celebrations.
With the exception of Zwarte Piet (Black Peter – Saint Nicholas’ companion in Holland), nearly all images of Christmas characters are white.
While I think it is ok to have a specific character be any particular colour/race/religion, there is no need for ALL characters to be one ‘type’ of person. It’s a bit like the old goodies in white hats and baddies in black hats – lots of good people actually prefer to wear black, and there are now stories of good witches and ninjas etc wearing black.
So is Santa black? Given he keeps himself hidden at the North Pole and comes into our homes when we are asleep, who knows what he really looks like? For all we know, he has purple skin and green hair!!
I have just read an article by Peggy Albers about the impact of telling a single story. Called ‘Why is Santa black?’ the article explains that having a single story leads us to have a single perspective on things and can lead to narrow thinking.
Peggy suggests we read some stories from a different perspective and stories that show certain groups in different ways.
For example, I once read a version of Snow White told from the step- mother’s perspective. It told of her concerns about the teenager dropping rubbish everywhere (like a trail in the woods!), needing to be tricked into eating healthy food (like apples) and her relationship with the woodsman before running away. It was fun but children hearing that may get to understand that there is always another perspective, another side to the story – and that is certainly a valuable lesson to learn.
Peggy gives examples of Jewish characters being portrayed as poor, living with tension or fearful of supernatural forces. The main reading I have done with Jewish characters have been set in or around World War 2 (so yes they were living with tension) or dealing with expectations based on deceased relatives (so supernatural forces) – so my own experience agrees with Peggy’s research. However, I also have some life experiences (and heard many other stereotypes) so have a broader perspective of Jews – but I can see how books give a limited view.
I intend now to get and read ‘Twas the night before Christmas: An African American version* to broaden my Christmas story – and am glad I have read (and reviewed) some revised versions of Christmas stories such as:
Interestingly, there is a lot of debate about Zwarte Piet – many say he is racist and based on a book written in the 1850s while others say his origins are much older and relate to traditional European Santas having a black assistant who was invisible in the darkness and travelled through chimneys (so was covered in black soot). Accepting the book version of Zwarte Piet gives a different perspective of the character, whereas the historical version has more depth and fewer racist overtones – again, a single story impacts on the perceptions.
The real symbols of Santa are a red suit, big belly and a white beard.
Yes, most images of Santa do have him as white but I don’t think that has to be the case (and will consciously use some other skin tones from here on myself).
And life is certainly more interesting when we have a variety of stories and cultures, so I’m all for some different Christmas and Santa stories (and there are a few around!)
So, what colour skin does Santa have in your mind? Other than it currently being unusual, would you have an issue with Santa being African or Asian in appearance?
* So far, I haven’t had much luck finding this book. It was written and illustrated by Melodye Benson Rosales, and published in October 1996.
by Mary Higgins and Carol Higgins Clark
published by Pocket Books (division of Simon & Schuster), New York, 2000
Most Christmas books, and certainly the majority of the books we review at Love Santa, are aimed at children but I came across this one and thought it would be fun to review it.
Described as mother “Queen of suspense” and daughter “bestselling author” working together for the first time to “create an exciting and entertaining suspense novel”, I expected to enjoy the story.
In the days before Christmas, private investigator Regan rushes across country to be with her injured mystery-writer mother, just in time for her father and a young mother to be kidnapped. Regan and new acquaintance amateur-detective Alvirah helped the police look the kidnappers and rescue the victims.
Regan and Alviarah are characters in their own series of books, one written by Mary and one by Carol.
Let me start by stating I love reading crime stories and some of my favourite authors are Jo Nesbo, Kathy Reichs, Jonathon Kellerman, Ian Rankin, J D Robb and Kerry Greenwood, so I anticipated a good read blending crime and Christmas!
There are light crime stories and others are more complex and deeper, and Deck the Halls certainly falls into the lighter category.
I found the writing to be very basic and superficial, with obvious points explained as if the reader is not very bright. It did improve as the book progressed so either I got used to it or the writers collaborated better as they went along.
It is suitable for teens as there is no real violence or frightening elements, nor other adult content. And the simplicity of the story would work better for younger teens, perhaps than adults like me.
The Christmas element of the book was low – just the proximity to Christmas Day and one character working as Santa in a department store.
Apparently there are some other Christmas books written by this duo but I won’t be rushing out to find any of them.
So I did finish the book and didn’t hate it, but I can’t truly recommend it for serious crime readers or those who appreciate good writing.
by Fiona Watt
Illustrated by Rachel Wells
published by Usborne Publishing, London, 2016
It was my eight year old son who grabbed this book off the shelf last night and begged me to read it. And then demanded to touch the textured part of each page.
So while these may be designed for the youngest of children, it has appeal to many age groups!
A series of Santa’s elves are shown, each with an explanation of how it is different to ‘my’ elf. Each page has a different texture included for little fingers to explore.
The pictures are cute and brightly coloured which makes the book appealing to all. I like that these books are interactive and teach young children various adjectives, and think that this should be on every baby/toddler Christmas bookshelf!
Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2013
It’s Christmas Day and a family heads of for Christmas with Granny and Pa. Much to the children’s horror, the parents won’t let them take Ruby the reindeer with them after the trouble she caused last year, so she goes to the zoo for the day instead.
I really enjoyed this story book. It is Christmassy but has a very different story that is fun and keeps the kids wondering what will happen next.
The zoo animals are feeling sorry for themselves as they get lonely on Christmas Day (which led us to talk about the fact that Melbourne Zoo is open and has keepers on Christmas Day). Ruby had an idea of letting the animals mingle and party, which seemed to go ok at first but then the inevitable problems arise.
Ruby sees Santa’s sleigh go past and asks for help, naming all nine reindeer.
My kids reacted to “I don’t think [Santa] even believes we exist” – my six year old just could not understand how anyone could not know about zoo animals – and “Good tidings, good cheer! Mind the elephant poo!” (they may that hysterical, of course!)
The book rhymes throughout which delighted my seven year old and adds some rhythm and fun to the experience, too.
Pictures throughout are colourful and simple, matching the story perfectly. And some sparkly texture on the front cover makes it all a little bit more special, too. It’s all good fun and I recommend it.
Greenberg has written another naughtiest reindeer book and some others, and based on this one, I’ll be keeping an eye out for them 🙂
by Steve Smallman
illustrated by Robert Dunn
AliCat, South Melbourne, 2012
The book starts with Santa and a little old elf preparing the sleigh and reindeer for his trip Down Under. It then covers the flight, including getting lost in cloud, and delivery of the gifts.
Santa is nice and cheery, a young reindeer is bright and finds the way to Perth’s Bell Tower, and Santa’s magic is throughout the book. So it was a fun and happy read.
Interestingly, Perth got the most mentions but Santa then went onto the other major cities (though one does wonder why he went to Alice Springs, then the east coast before going to Darwin!). One spread includes many recognisable structures, although predominantly Sydney and Melbourne, and the last page sees Santa flying home over Sydney rather than Darwin…
As a positive, the Santa-nav uses kilometres and there is no snow in Australia, Santa refers to little Aussies and ‘crossed the Equator and headed down under’. I was less happy with children leaving out ‘cookies and milk’ and a reindeer snack was left inside rather than out on the grass as I’ve always known to do.
Astute children may ask why Santa went straight home after Darwin rather than delivering gifts to children in other countries (and my seven year old did notice!), but that didn’t detract from the overall story.
As always, it’s nice to see a book centred around places you know, so Aussie kids are bound to enjoy this book. And children elsewhere may well enjoy the story in its own right and get some interest out of seeing some views of down under!
by Susie Schick-Pierce, Jeannie Schick-Jacobowitz, Muffin Drake-Policastro
illustrated by Wendy Wallin-Malinow
Naperville, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2012.
It’s Christmas Eve and Santa is sick so Mrs Claus has to take over so the children don’t miss out on Christmas.
Many parents will understand how Mrs Claus feels with the number of jobs still to be done on Christmas Eve as she has a very busy night. She has to wrap gifts, cook snacks, harness up the reindeer and finish decorating all the trees. Mrs Claus even has to write a pile of letters children to on behalf of Santa!
[Spoiler alert!] While the story focuses on Mrs Claus, the story doesn’t damage anyone’s expectations or hopes as Santa gets better in time to do the Christmas Eve run.
I recently rediscovered this book in our attic, so I read it a few weeks ago with my kids on a drive to a family outing, when Christmas still felt a way off!
Santa’s niece, Little Miss Christmas, has the important job of wrapping the presents for Santa to deliver. However, she decides she wants a break so Santa and Mr Christmas have to wrap presents instead.
This was typical Mr Men/Little Miss book and enjoyable to read together – my six and eight year olds both enjoyed it and said it was fun.
As well as being fun, I found that this book was good for starting conversations and thinking. For instance, I was able to get the kids to predict the next step of the story when Santa and Mr Christmas got distracted. Then we talked about whether doing jobs straight away was a better choice and a better way to care for Little Miss Christmas.
It took a team effort at the end to get all the gifts wrapped in time for Santa to leave the North Pole, which was a nice message and had the amusement of how different characters ‘helped’ with the wrapping (Miss Nasty had to be supervised and you can guess how Mr Messy went…).
However, Father Christmas and Mr Christmas hadn’t learned their lesson which was a little more disappointing – and didn’t make my kids laugh either. Readers could be left with a worry that some presents may not arrive on Christmas Eve if Santa and the reindeer take off late – I covered that up with the idea that Australia is so early on Santa’s route that he would not miss our place on Christmas Eve!
So this book was fun with a bit more depth than most of the Little Miss books, and can be enjoyed by a range of age groups.
by Jim Poulter
illustrated by Jo Poulter
Red Hen Enterprises, Templestowe, 2007
I came across this book by a recommendation by a friend and her eight year old son. They had got the book at a local market and really enjoyed reading it – her son doesn’t always enjoy reading but he loved this book and managed to read it himself despite it being a bit harder than he usually can manage.
It is Christmas Eve in Wattlebark Creek and the animals are preparing for and looking forward to Christmas and a visit from the Christmas Wombat, but not everything goes to plan.
While this book is full of pictures and is picture-book size, it is not a simple picture book for toddlers – although you could read it over a few days to a toddler or pre-schooler.
I loved the Australian feel to this book – it’s more the overall tone than any specific things that make it feel so comfortable to me.
There are also a number of humourous elements, such as Enid B Koala, Wall and Bea the wallabies, Col (short for Collingwood) the Magpie, Iris Emu the Chief Inspector of Local Business, and Clint E Tiger Quoll.
It is more than a picture book in that characters are more developed and the story includes history, background, excitement and danger. But it is accompanied by lovely images of the Australian bush and animals – all drawn by Jo Poulter, the author’s wife.
As part of the Christmas Eve preparations, Enid reads out the Wattlebark Creek Christmas Story. It starts with “it was the night before Christmas” and keeps to the idea of young ‘uns sleeping with a special gift-bearing Christmas visitor, but has it’s own flavour and the gifts are carried by the Christmas Wombat! The Christmas Wombat uses magic to get around the Aussie bush so doesn’t need reindeer or even boomers to help him, although some white possums are his assistants.
Christmas morning is interrupted by an attack by two feral cats, and the animals are all scared which may frighten young children. Shhh, everyone ends up ok, including the feral cats who become friends!
Both my children enjoyed the story – my six year old said “It’s not good Mum – it’s super!” and my seven year old loved how the day was saved and a “Star of valour” earned.
My only criticism (and it is picky) is that it needed a little more editing as a couple of sentences have an extra word, missing word or a slightly wrong word. It stood out to me as I read it aloud but I corrected it orally and it certainly didn’t detract from our enjoyment of the story.
Jim Poulter has written and self-published this book, and some others, so it is not widely available but is well worth the effort and by buying it directly from Jim, you know the entire cost is going to costs and the author.
A Christmas addition to the “That’s not my…” series of books, my children and I enjoyed reading this together. My family has long loved this series of books, starting with the ‘that’s not my monster’ given to my son as a baby. We’ve even played ‘that’s my …’ as a game on long drives! So I could not resist That’s not my reindeer when I saw it in a shop 🙂
A series of reindeer are shown, each with an explanation of how it is different to ‘my’ reindeer. Each page has a different texture included for little fingers to explore.
It is a board book, with large, colourful images and a short, repetitive sentence on each double page spread. To make it even more appealing to young children, each reindeer has a touchy-feely component such as the soft fur on the front cover and some sparkly bells. This is a great way to teach some vocabulary as they see and touch something while hearing the word.
There were no surprises in the book for us, and it obviously doesn’t have a complex plot to comment on, but we all enjoyed it anyway – and my six year old liked being able to read it herself. It is not overtly a Christmas book, although there are some fir trees in the background, so it can be enjoyed all year round. At 6 and 7, they questioned how bells can be too sparkly and instantly took the red nosed reindeer to be Rudolph – and their favourite!
Definitely a nice book for a baby or toddler, and likely to be enjoyed long past two or three years of age. I’m glad I grabbed it! I thoroughly recommend it for anyone after a baby/toddler Christmas book.
Coming from Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, you already know this book will be fun, child-friendly and accurately depict Australian animals.
It’s Christmas Day in Shaggy Gully and most of the animals are having fun, but Emily Emu is concerned that Bunyip isn’t having fun so everyone tries to make Bunyip smile.
Bunyip is grumpy so does not appreciate the attempts of Emil and her friends to cheer him up – “Bunyips DON’T like Christmas!” – yet Emily keeps on trying.
It is a fun story that shows care for others and blends in the major features of Christmas (food, presents, carols, togetherness).
Both my children enjoyed it – my son’s favourite parts were the echidnas (one was wearing a swimming ring while another read the safety rules!) but was disappointed the Bunyip didn’t have bits of all Aussie animals such as a ‘roo tail. My six year old enjoyed it but when asked if it was because of the Aussie animals, she said “No, it was about Christmas!”
And to ensure adults can also enjoy this book, there are some jokes hidden in the pictures (like an Emu offering flying lessons!)
A fun novel for children about Santa, a dog and an adventure!
Rudolph is sick so can’t lead the reindeer and Santa is staying home on Christmas Eve. But along comes Rover the wonder-dog and maybe he can help Santa…
Definitely a book aimed at children – many adults will find it a bit too silly at times (and perhaps a little predictable) while seven year olds think it is hilarious!
This is actually a sequel to The Giggler Treatment (a New York Times best seller) but I haven’t read that and did not find it a problem. Having said that, if you can get both books I think it would be fun and you may as well read them in order! There is also followed by The Meanwhile Adventures (and you can get all three together in The Rover Adventures).
As for the actual story, it is fun. Roddy helps Santa out (even if it took a little convincing), Santa learns he is more important to kids than the presents, and they travel the world in a very logical manner (moving north and south along timelines!)
I laughed at how many sandwiches were made for (and eaten by) Santa, and I loved the idea of elves having sleighs around the world to top up Santa’s main sleigh as he travelled. I might have to ask Santa if that is how he really manages to get so many gifts to so many children!
To keep adults somewhat entertained, there are also various side references that kids won’t fully understand – like borrowing an owl from some Harry kid or getting a bandana from a “very old singer called Bruce Springsteen”!
by Oakley Graham
illustrated by Patricia Yuste
Hinkler Books, Heatherton, 2012
My children chose this book from our local library – and I must say I’m glad I didn’t buy it or have to store it long term.
The book is based on the concept of 27 aspects of Christmas. Each aspect is given a page of text opposite a lovely illustration. 24 or 25, or even 31, would be a more logical number to my thinking but the overall concept is good, I think.
The book it titled ‘when I dream of Christmas’ but the words and idea are only mentioned once in the book – on the last page. Noting else in the book is about dreaming so I find the title misleading and irrelevant.
Of course, the book is focussed on a winter Christmas – right from the first page, children in more than half the world are excluded as ‘sledging’ is not part of our Christmas at all.
However, it is the actual text that I really don’t like. I think it is meant to be funny on a number of pages, but it seemed lame to me and my children didn’t laugh or smile once. Comments like “sledging is fun at any time but best with snow” is a little patronising rather than funny. Likewise, dirty socks making gifts smell like cheese and Christmas lights causing kids to ride into snowmen are just not necessary.
The only page not so silly was the last page when it talks about baby Jesus (of course, for the non-religious that raises other issues!)
On the other hand, Patricia Yuste has done some lovely pictures for the book. She has matched them to the story well and used bright colours and simple characters to make it look delightful.
So, obviously, I don’t recommend buying this book for anyone. My three and five year olds listened to it all and said it was ok – but have not asked for a second reading which says it all I think.