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A debut picture book that offers an alternative history of Old Saint Nick.

Santa Claus represents the spirit of selfless giving—but was he always this way? In this book, Kris is a rosy-cheeked, blond Sami boy, living with his family among the reindeer herders of Lapland: “He was a nice enough boy except for one thing: his heart had an icy spot in it….He cared for no one but himself.” After Kris’ family gives him a beautiful reindeer named Hopea (“silver” in Finnish) and an elegant sleigh, he loves to ride it across the taiga, but refuses to give anyone else a ride. One arctic winter night, he meets a beautiful girl who’s lost and alone—and, in that moment, Kris’ heart melts. He sends the girl home with Hopea and the sleigh, and faces the dangers of the dark wilderness by himself. As in so many parables about kindness to strangers, Kris’ generosity is paid back many times: The girl, whose name is Lumi (“snow” in Finnish), comes back with her father, the elf king, to rescue him. Kris and Lumi fall in love, and now they’re known the world over as Mr. and Mrs. Kringle. Dale’s storytelling style is as spare as the northern snow forest itself. He dispenses with the usual awkward rhymes and meters of first-time children’s book writers, and instead tells Kris’ story in unadorned prose. The result is a book of welcome clarity, but it also has a certain lack of emotion, missing opportunities to depict warmer feelings and richer detail. Hinz’s vibrant illustrations focus on the blue and red of traditional Sami tunics, set against the blue and white of the winter landscape. They have the feel of folk art, and evoke old-fashioned fairy tales; readers will practically hear the rustle of the warm tunics and the crunch of the snow. But although his reindeer look positively alive, the human faces are somber and often awkward. Overall, however, the combination of the prose and the art gives the book an uncommon, quiet reserve.

An unusual children’s tale that offers a welcome change from the forced jollity of so many holiday-themed books.

Pub Date: Nov. 26th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1500370831
Page count: 34pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
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