Aanensen’s (Summer of the Suffragists, 2012, etc.) earnest chapter book tells the story of two Christmases, one ancient, one contemporary.
Oscar isn’t looking forward to his church’s Christmas pageant, especially because everyone has to prepare for it in October. “But it isn’t even Halloween yet,” he says to anyone who will listen. The truth is that Oscar’s father was killed in Iraq in January, and anything Christmas-related reminds Oscar of that giant rift. Oscar’s attitude is changed by a visit from an angel who attempts to remind Oscar of the true holiday spirit by taking him back to the first Christmas: the one in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. Oscar gets a glimpse into the life of Omar, a camel boy whose life isn’t so different from his own. Omar recently lost his father, too; now an orphan, he’s sold into slavery to an old astrologer who’s about to set out on a journey following a star to see a prophesied king. The novel jumps back and forth between Oscar’s and Omar’s stories as they creep toward the two Christmases and learn lessons that will change their perspectives. Aanensen writes in clever, energetic prose that keeps readers in tune with her protagonists. She deftly switches between references appropriate for each time period: while Oscar alludes to the 2010 movie Tangled, Omar sees the world in terms of animals and agriculture. A camel trader’s voice can persuade his customers “like the flower pulls in a bee.” Though this is a Christmas story—infant Jesus does indeed make an appearance—there’s little overt religiosity. Though the plot is familiar, the book is much more concerned with the way children deal with emotional turmoil in the world around them and how they can learn to recognize the things they can rely on: family, friendship, and community.
A fresh, openhearted Christmas story about grief and acceptance.