A beady-eyed brat sits in a red, thronelike chair, glaring out of the cover in this hilarious, bizarre holiday story. What’s that machinery behind him, and what is that kid up to?
That’s Bradley Bartleby on the throne, and he’s bad, bad to the bone. He terrifies his “immensely rich” parents, mistreats his pet elephant and demands a huge list of presents every Christmas. But Santa brings him just one gift each year, a pair of socks. So the outraged Bradley builds a Santa trap in the chimney, planting dynamite at the bottom. He extends his trap to all the chimneys and adds tigers, guillotines and trapdoors. His parents decamp to a hotel, leaving Bradley alone on Christmas Eve, when he inadvertently falls into his own trap. But he is not forgotten by Santa, who still leaves him a pair of socks, along with a box of bandages and some antiseptic, in a slam-dunk conclusion that finds Bradley inside his own metal cage. The cleverly constructed plot unfolds with perfect comedic timing and dry wit, complemented by digitally produced mixed-media illustrations that have a suitably sinister, magnetic charm. Bernatene’s artwork uses dark colors, shadows and cinematic perspectives to bring Bradley’s world into believable focus.
Now, some will find these devilishly delinquent developments positively beyond the bounds of good taste. But many others will say, “Naughty. But nice.” (Picture book. 5-9)