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Monday, December 24, 2012

Santa from Cincinnati, written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Simon & Schuster. 2012. $19.99 ages 4 and up

"So, I came up with a clever plan. I would deliver one of my toys to every child in Cincinnati on Christmas Eve. My mom and dad helped me load them onto some sleds I'd tied together. Just as I was about to leave, I found more toys under my bed. So, I stuffed those into my pillowcase, flung it over my shoulder, and I was off!"

Gosh! It is a neverending wonder to me that there are so many stories to tell. In  a prior post I told you that I loved learning about Anne's early life in Budge Wilson's brilliant Before Green Gables (Viking, 2008) and was charmed when learning about a young Sherlock Holmes in Shane Peacock's The Young Sherlock Holmes Cases 1-Final (Tundra 2009-2012). Admittedly, I have never really wondered about Santa's early life.

Luckily for each one of us, Judi Barrett did and, using her many storytelling skills, she regales us with each of the events that led to Santa living the life that has such meaning today for children everywhere in the world. He was born just after midnight, and his start was a harbinger of things to come:

Even at birth, he is destined to fancy the color red and wear a big smile! His name is
serendipitously spelled out for  his Claus parents in a bowl of alphabet soup soon after his birth. His crib mobile sports a reindeer, a snowman, a Christmas tree and a penguin, and he is fascinated by each one of them. Being the first and only Claus child, there are many photos taken to chronicle each of his life's major events.

He is obsessed with toys as a toddler, and carries them with him wherever his little feet take him. He sports a beard in kindergarten, emulating his father and amusing his classmates. His father, a toymaker has a basement workplace where father and son work endlessly...until one day, when the toys appear to have taken over. Not a single space left for the next invention. It calls for action.

Santa, being a benevolent and generous young man starts in Cincinnati. Successful beyond any dreams he might have had, the event becomes an annual one and moves beyond Cincinnati's border to encompass all of Ohio. The rest of his life is humming along as well.. success in school, a driver's licence, senior prom, college dreams. Oh, and his life's work...what might it be?

He finds a college that is unusual and allows him to 'major in toys and minor in business'. His future is sealed. The task takes on epic proportions and Santa decides he needs a plan to cope with the job  ahead:

"I was able to shorten my list of toy recipients by finding out who was naughty and who was nice and making two separate lists. That cut down a bit on the number of toys I needed."

The rest, as they say, is the stuff of stories and dreams. His workshop continues to fashion toys that are coveted by children all over the world. While he has gotten older, a bit heftier and perhaps a bit slower, he has a new sleigh...and it does a great job!

The voice is so clear and original, you would swear you are hearing it 'right from the horse's mouth'. It makes me want to sit down and do a quick interview regarding some of his most memorable Christmas Eves. Kevin Hawkes adds his formidable talent to the telling using acrylics and colored pencils and offering clues to Santa's life from the front cover to the back. The colors are bright and inviting, the captioned photographs give the audience a chance to see the many times in Santa's life that portend his future calling. What Judi Barrett doesn't include in the text, Kevin Hawkes provides to keep us thinking. His humorous, well-designed artwork adds to the magic and should have every child in Cincinnati checking for this wonderful new book under their Christmas tree...this year, or next, or in years to come. Then, they can tell others, who will tell others...and on it goes!

It is destined to be a 'keeper'!

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