The House of Wooden Santas.
Kevin Major. Santa carvings by Imelda George. Photography by Ned Pratt.
Grades 1 - 6 / Ages 6 - 11.
Jesse hung his stocking by the fireplace and sat with his mom on the sofa for the last few minutes, his feet wedged between the cushions, hot chocolate in his hand. The trail of Santas had several gaps, and perhaps, before Christmas was over, there would be many more.The House of Wooden Santas is a Christmas story with a difference: this time it is nine year old Jesse who has to convince his mother that she has to believe in Christmas and in the power of Santa Claus. Kevin Major, better known for his young adult fiction, has written a powerful picture storybook about a single mother who is a woodcarver who carves a different Santa for each of the twenty-five days before Christmas. Jesse's mom hopes to sell the Santas at the local craft shop to help pay the rent, but, as each new Santa appears, they come to mean more than prospective cash to Jesse and his mother. Besides being a source of delightful anticipation each morning, the Santas become the key to new friendships for both Jesse and his mother, to a sense of belonging in their new community, and eventually, even to new economic security.
"You got to believe," said Jesse, between slurps of hot chocolate.
His mother looked at him, but didn't say a word. She put her arm around his shoulder.
"If you didn't believe in something because you couldn't see it, then your life would be very boring," he said, "Right?"
He looked into his mother's eyes until she nodded.
"A carving shows us the good stuff, like friends and stuff, and love, right?" This time he couldn't wait for her to answer. "And if we didn't believe in that we'd never have it."
She squeezed him so hard there seemed to be Santas dancing before his eyes.
The most striking feature of this book, however, is the full colour photographs of Imelda George's woodcarvings. A woodcarver from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Imelda George is famous in the area for her Santas, which are illustrated here in superb reproductions. There is the "Thinking Santa", the "Wish Santa", even a Santa on a bicycle and one on skates. Kevin Major has cleverly worked each of these into his narrative as Jesse alternately believes and disbelieves in Santa Claus and is finally convinced that it is the power of believing, itself, that is important.
My one reservation about the book is that its text is most suitable for ages ten and up while the size of the book [9" x 12"] and its picture book format make it appear more suitable to six to nine year olds. Though the younger readers would enjoy having this book read to them [it would be a natural for one chapter a night for the 25 days before Christmas], they would not be able to read it alone and might be perplexed by some of the deeper themes of the book, such as a boy's relationship to his father. Jesse has never known his father, and his friend Johnathan has a father who has been injured in an accident and takes some of his frustration out on his son via indifference and ill humour.
Despite these reservations, this is a moving and unique Christmas story that combines Kevin Major's ability to portray the problems as well as the challenges in a young person's life with the fascinating artwork of Imelda George.
Helen Norrie is a sessional lecturer in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba, where she teaches children's literature. Helen also writes a regular column on children's books for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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Copyright © 1998 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - MARCH 13, 1998.
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