Pros: introduces kids to story of St. Nicholas, encourages generosity
Cons: Nick's complete turnaround may be a little over-the-top
In the claymation special Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Rankin and Bass purport to give us the origins of Santa Claus, explaining that he was an orphan raised by toymakers who started his yearly distribution of toys as a young man. They have an explanation for everything, from how he met Mrs. Claus to why he makes his deliveries on Christmas. Of course, they made it all up.
The Legend of St. Nicholas, written by Dandi Daley Mackall and illustrated by Guy Porfirio, has fanciful elements, but its purpose is to introduce children to the real St. Nicholas, who was neither magical nor immortal but who, motivated by his deep Christian faith, devoted his life to random acts of generosity - a sort of third-century clandestine Percy Ross.
The legend is framed by the story of Nick, a modern boy who isn't too enthused about buying Christmas gifts for his brothers and even less inclined to donate his money to charity. As he browses the CD section on a last-minute shopping trip, hoping he can get cheap enough presents that he can afford to buy one for himself, Nick overhears the store's Santa telling a story about a young man long ago with the same name but a very different outlook.
The tale is pretty much as I've heard it before. Nicholas, the only child of wealthy parents, was orphaned at a young age and decided to use his parents' fortune to improve the welfare of various poor families. Each version of the story seems to involve him slipping money for dowries into a particular household, and he does so here, but Mackall makes his task more personal by introducing three distinct characters as his best friends and having him help them.
The story is perfectly well-written, but it's the illustrations that really stand out. Porfirio makes Nicholas a vibrant youth, probably still a teenager. While the rich paintings clearly give us a sense of the setting, Nicholas and his friends also feel contemporary, easy for modern children to relate to. One of my favorite pictures shows Nicholas as a boy, visiting Asia with his parents and casting a concerned glance at the poverty-stricken children on the periphery. Each of the illustrations is soft and detailed, very appealing to readers of any age.
The book is published by Zonderkidz, a division of Zondervan, which publishes Christian books. It would make a great inclusion in a church library. Not only does it introduce an interesting part of Christian history, it encourages children to embrace the spirit of giving and recognize that, as it says in James 1:17, included in the back of the book, "Every good and perfect gift is from above."
At 452 words, this review qualifies as lean-n-mean. Sometimes, less really is more!
However, more can also be more; challenge yourself to write daily this November with kamel622's Epinions Writing Month!