Thursday, January 3, 2013

Santa from Cincinnati by Judi Barrett

 Santa from Cincinnati by Judi Barrett, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Rating: 5 joyful stars

(I know Christmas is over, but...our lights are still

One day, I'd like to write children's books.  You'd think I've read enough to know exactly what it takes, right?  On the one hand, yes.  On the other hand, books like Santa from Cincinnati just completely and totally humble me into a non-writing status.  This book is that creative, that impressive, that good.

Judi Barrett, of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs fame, has created a past for Santa Claus in this gem of a book.  Born in Cincinnati to a less famous Mr. and Mrs. Claus, his parents found his unusual name in an unusual way; "S, A, N, T, A" floated around together in their alphabet soup.  He was "jolly and roly-poly and had rosy cheeks from day one."  His toddler years included all the normal things: first steps (while wearing big, black boots), first words (ho, ho, ho), favorite song ("Jingle Bells") and favorite toys (stuffed reindeer).  To look more like his dad, young Santa started wearing a fake (white) beard and mustache.

My favorite [toy] was a stuffed reindeer.
In fact, since I liked it so much. my mother got me several more.
Young Santa and his father spent hours in their basement building toys together, adding to Santa's already big collection.  The toys were soon the subject of much awe and desire; the children of Cincinnati pressed their faces against the little basement windows to watch the man and boy make these toys.  The kids asked if they could have one, and soon Santa had a list that grew longer and longer every day.  One day before his birthday (December 25th) he realized he had way too many toys, so Santa decided to give them away--one to each child on his list.

He put on his red coat and hat, pulled some toys on his sled, and shoved more toys in a giant pillowcase he carried on his back.  Not surprisingly, the night was a huge success!  Santa decided to make it an annual thing.

After college, meeting and marrying the next Mrs. Claus, enlisting a bunch of people to help, and relocating to a bigger and better facility (with central heating), Santa became more efficient by shortening his list by finding out who was naughty and who was nice.  And his reindeer benefit from modern technology--his sleigh is now jet-propelled and thanks to his GPS, they never get lost.

The story would be great on its own, but Kevin Hawkes' illustrations bump it from awesome to incredible.  Each illustration just adds so much!  This is just a book full of joy--that sounds pretty hokey as I type it out, but there is so much joy in the faces of each picture and so much joy in the story that you can't help but feel a little bit of it as you read it to your little ones.

Even the week after the holidays.

I think the only drawback to this great book is that it explains Christmas without any religion--I can't really add much to that because I'm trying to figure out how and what to teach my trio.  But even with that drawback (because you've probably done a better job than me at explaining Christmas), this is truly one of the best holiday books I've ever read.  Thank you once again to Julia, my friend's daughter, for pointing it out to us.

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