Poor Matthew is having the worst Christmas ever.
Well before the holiday season arrives, only Jasper the dog provides Matthew with any comfort when his parents announce in the springtime that the family is moving. When autumn rolls around, Matthew (whom stiff, undistinguished illustrations depict as resembling his dad and appearing white with light skin, red, straight hair, and blue eyes) still hasn’t adjusted. Readers learn that “at his new school, Matthew counted the hours until he could run home to Jasper. At church nothing felt right.” Little sister Lucy (who looks like their mother, with wavy dark hair, light-brown skin, and brown eyes), is happy in their new community, and their parents appear to be happy, too. Lucy’s joy is quite apparent when the minister announces plans for an outdoor Nativity, and she volunteers her doll, Gabriela, to “be baby Jesus.” Matthew is embarrassed by her exuberance, but those feelings shift to deep sadness and worry just before Christmas when Jasper disappears. The family makes fliers and calls around to shelters and veterinarian offices, to no avail. On Christmas Eve, Matthew’s “heart ached for Jasper, lost somewhere in that terribly silent night.” And then, in “a Christmas miracle,” Jasper appears in the living Nativity’s manger, a narrative contrivance that beggars belief and does not mitigate the one-note moodiness of the pages that have come before.
Not among the best. (Picture book. 4-7)