An imaginative tale of Santa's boyhood. Young Claus's humble origins find him in an orphanage. He's a good-hearted child, but somewhat careless and self-centered. Lagging behind to play in the snow on a winter foraging trip, he gets lost in a blizzard. On his fantastic journey back he's helped along by a gentle giant, a raccoon wearing magical sleigh bells, and mystical, toy-making elves. Along the way he learns the importance of giving and finds his purpose in life. Although the story is a little moralistic, the lessons take a backseat to an entertaining adventure reminiscent of Tolkien. The characters are original and well-defined, and the fantasy landscape charmingly envisioned. Particularly vivid is the elves' world, where Claus hears the magical ""knickety-knack of tiny chisels,"" smells freshly baked bread, and sinks into a heavenly goose-down mattress. Sure to please young readers and listeners.