Wednesday, December 13, 2006


SANTA KNOWS by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith (Dutton)
Alfie P. Snorklepuss has serious doubts about the existence of Santa Claus. Armed with information garnered from his library's non-fiction section, he writes letters to editors, makes appearances on radio and television, and even advises readers on the World Wide Web to "wake up and smell the cookies!" Even armed with such authoritative research, Aflie has a hard time finding followers, and ripping his sister's stocking from the mantle makes his rhetoric none the more persuasive. Instead, she writes a letter to the big guy himself: "All I want for Christmas is a nicer big brother." Can a trip into the vortex that is Santa's magical sack make a leopard change his spots, or a boy change his candy cane stripes?

Steve Bjorkman's loose, colorful illustrations add a lot of humor to the story, from Alfie's Just-Say-No-to-Christmas themed jammies to his sanctimonious posturing that may remind you of a friend or two. Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith show that they can ho-ho-ho with the best of them, and that their fine novels and expertise about children's literature, widely celebrated throughout the literary community, are just two facets of their gemlike talents. When it comes to holiday books, this is definitely one to include on your "nice" list. (6 and up)

Also of interest:
SANTA'S LAST PRESENT by Marie-Aude Murail, illustrated by Quentin Blake (Peachtree) There comes a time in the life of every girl and boy when Santa makes his last visit. After a year of electronic toys and doo-dads, Julian finds himself entranced by a simple wooden toy train, obviously left by mistake. Will Santa take it back on his final visit? No fears; if anyone knows what to do, it's good old S.C. Blake's loose, expressive illustrations add to the humanity of the story, and the small packaging adds to the personal feel. Gentle, touching, and true to both the spirit of the holiday and the spirit of children, this story will toll like a bell for those who are making this first turn toward adulthood. (7 and up)

SANTA CLAUS, THE WORLD'S NUMBER ONE TOY EXPERT by Marla Frazee (Harcourt) "No one knows more about kids than Santa Claus. He is the world's number one kid expert." How does he do it? With a flurry of post-its as heavy as a snowstorm, tireless market testing and the checking and double-checking of burgeoning warehouse shelves, the jolly man in red is able to pull it all together for the holidays and gets it right 99.9 percent of the time. Frazee's illustrations control the preparation frenzy with color and brilliant composition; the wall of wrapping paper is breathtaking, as is the montage of Santa testing a pogo stick. Santa is portrayed, rightfully, as a man of great warmth and ability, and in the end, we discover his gift of choice (though, with due respect, I think he'd prefer this book). (5 and up)

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