In this lovingly packaged illustrated children’s book, everyone has been naughty this year, and Santa is ready to exchange toys for coal, until a very good and wise little girl named Molly sets him straight.
At home in the North Pole, Santa is distressed to learn from one of his elves that the world’s children, from “Alice in Dallas” to “Pio in Rio,” have been unusually bad this year. No presents this year, he decrees, ordering the elf to load the sleigh with coal. “This Christmas I’ll bring them the thing they deserve!” Readers will probably find this uncharacteristically harsh, and so does Molly, who encounters Santa on her hearth as a frowning “stranger in black” (he’s covered with ash). He softens when he realizes that Molly is one of the few “good” children on his list, so much so that he’s willing to be reminded by her that Christmas “marks the birth of a glorious child” who “taught us it’s best if we learn to forgive!” As the story ends, Molly and Santa, along with Molly’s mouse, Nibbles, drive off in the sleigh together to deliver presents. Thach’s book, his first, is a Christian allegory, with Molly’s gentle faith in her fellow children amending Santa’s Old Testament–inspired sense of crime and punishment. (Nibbles’ role is somewhat more difficult to parse.) But the overtly religious content is minimal, and the rhyming text—with the same meter and opening words as “A Visit from St. Nicholas”—is enjoyable and generally not preachy. A glossary in the back explains some of the more poetic words scattered throughout the author’s verse—e.g., “abode,” “espy” and “wrath.” The book’s production values are high, with a red and gold velvet binding and lush, full-color illustrations by Bernal (Brother Jerome and the Angels in the Bakery, 2010, etc.). Bernal’s palette can be a bit oversaturated, but otherwise, his warm illustrations have much the same appeal as Norman Rockwell’s and Fred Mizen’s iconic paintings of Santa. A two-page spread showing Molly, on one page, looking up at Santa beseechingly, and Santa, on the other, glowering downward, is particularly well-done.
A charming Christmas book for all ages.