It’s hard to dig up a new angle on Santa’s cast of helpers, but the Coal Man is a nugget of originality.

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THE CHRISTMAS COAL MAN

A new helper for Santa is introduced as an elderly, elfin man who provides the lumps of coal for the stockings of naughty boys and girls.

Each year the Coal Man searches through his coal mine with the help of his pet canary and his hardworking mule, gathering enough coal to sell to Santa for Christmas deliveries. The Coal Man wants to retire to a tropical island with his pets, but he can’t afford to quit working. This year, when they deliver their annual load to the North Pole, Santa announces that he will stop giving out lumps of coal, as the negative disciplinary tactic isn’t working. Instead, Santa wants to try a special positive reward for the well-behaved children. The depressed Coal Man is sent away with one bag of coal as a souvenir, but when he slips on the ice, the lumps of coal spill out into the snow, mysteriously transformed into huge diamonds. The Coal Man retires to his island, working for Santa painting shells to tuck in the stockings of “the best good boys and girls.” Humorous illustrations, a large trim size, and double-page–spread format make this a good choice for reading aloud to a group. The full-bleed artwork uses a dark palette of purples and blues, with vibrant flashes from Christmas lights, firelight, and the northern lights illuminating the Coal Man’s exciting discovery of his Christmas gift from Santa.

It’s hard to dig up a new angle on Santa’s cast of helpers, but the Coal Man is a nugget of originality. (Picture book. 4-7) 

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4677-1607-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Carolrhoda

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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Not one to stop for despite the appeal of the cartoony art style.

COMET THE UNSTOPPABLE REINDEER

An intrepid member of Santa’s team saves Christmas.

When weary elves get into a fight just before Christmas Eve, Comet the reindeer steps in to break up the fisticuffs and is injured. The rhyming text describes how the doctor tells him he needs to rest and can’t help pull Santa’s sleigh that night, and then it reads, “Comet watched Santa get ready. / (His spot had been filled by / a rookie named Freddy.)” The singsong cadence and goofy phrasing of these lines is representative of the text as a whole, which goes on to reveal that Santa forgets to bring his bag filled with toys on the journey. No one notices this oversight since Freddy keeps them all entertained with silly songs. Injured Comet decides he must deliver the toys himself, and a comical sequence shows him struggling to lift an enormous bag onto his shoulders before giving up. Then he reads a tear-jerker of a letter to Santa from a selfless child, which inspires him to persist. He flies around the world in search of this child’s home, delivering toys until he finally finds the house he’s searching for in Oahu. At this point Santa calls “full of thanks-yous and praise, / so quick-thinking Comet / mentioned getting a raise,” an attempt at wit that both undercuts the message of selflessness and aims over the heads of most child readers. Santa presents White, and his elf employees are diverse.

Not one to stop for despite the appeal of the cartoony art style. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-4347-2

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Two Lions

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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Not necessarily just for Halloween; readers can appreciate it any time.

SHE WANTED TO BE HAUNTED

Which cottage would stand out more in a real estate ad: cute or…haunted?

Clarissa the sentient cottage dislikes cuteness; as a pink, adorable haven for flowers and squirrels, she’s bored. She yearns to be scary and haunted like her father, a gloomy castle, and her mother, a smelly, vermin-infested witch’s hut. Dad gladly donates clouds but tells Clarissa it’s OK to be herself. The clouds are a bust because they bring rain, which brings forth…a rainbow, plants, and birds. Mom supplies a reeking bottle whose contents allegedly repel living things. Clarissa opens it but…attracts playful dogs. Finally abandoning her desire for a ghostly boarder, Clarissa invites her animals to remain. At the end, a particular creature’s unexpected arrival—and its most uncharacteristic behavior—reveal Clarissa’s true nature: horrible and cute. And she’s just fine with that. This rhyming story is certainly an unusual take on the finding-oneself trope. The bouncy verses mostly read and scan well, include sophisticated vocabulary, and provide Clarissa with a spunky, appealing personality. Different typefaces represent the voices of Clarissa, each parent, and the narrator. The cheerful, lively illustrations are very colorful but a trifle twee; Clarissa and her parents are differentiated through vivid pinks, dreary shades, and anthropomorphic faces. Nature blossoms via bright depictions of flowers, trees, animals, and birds.

Not necessarily just for Halloween; readers can appreciate it any time. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68119-791-3

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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