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by Mary Higgins Clark, illustrated by Wendell Minor

Age Range: 4 - 7

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4169-9478-7
Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

The prolific mystery writer turns her hand to children’s Christmas stories with a sentimental tale of a beloved family heirloom that is restored just in time for reappearance under the Christmas tree.

A little boy named Johnny remembers a previous holiday visit to his grandparents’ New England farm, where he rode on a white riding-horse toy that had been in the family for several generations. Now he and his younger brother, Liam, and their parents are returning to the farm for Christmas. Johnny has promised Liam that he can ride the family heirloom, but the horse was lent out the previous Christmas and never returned. Johnny finds the dilapidated horse in the attic, and his father and grandfather restore it for Liam. Some elements of the plot are a stretch: The horse looks like it was left out in the snow for a decade or two, and the restoration project is accomplished with unbelievable speed. The text is long and drawn-out, with lots of stated rather than implied emotions and too-obvious symbolism. Minor’s accomplished illustrations in watercolor and gouache provide strong visual personalities for the main characters and a distinct setting on the snowy New England farm with its 19th-century stone farmhouse.

Even with attractive illustrations and a Christmas setting, a plodding story doesn’t create any magic. (Picture book. 4-7)