I haven’t yet reviewed a picture book on my blog, but since I was asked to review this book, this is the perfect opportunity. I was sent this book for review by the publisher, but this in no way affects my review. I was excited to receive this book; however, I was disappointed in it after reading it. The plot, though interesting, wasn’t as well done as I would have hoped, and the design of the book itself isn’t great. I thought the writing was sub-par but the illustrations were bright and colorful. After reading through the book several times, I really get the feeling that it was written specifically for the author’s kids; something she wrote for them to enjoy together and not originally meant for public release.
The story is about a nine-year-old boy who comes across a letter from Santa typed on his computer. He thought it was strange that it would be there and began to wonder if Santa was real. All of a sudden he forgets about the letter, until a few months later when Christmas approaches and his mother begins acting a bit peculiar, wearing a hat around all the time though she never used to do so. He wondered if his mother was just pretending to be Santa. In order to find out whether Santa was real, he stayed up late on Christmas Eve and couldn’t believe what he saw. *Spoiler* His mother is part of an organization called The Secret Society of Santa’s Helpers. She was enlisted last year and her job is to help Santa get the presents that are more difficult for him to make. As part of the job, she grows elf ears around Christmas, which is why she has to wear a hat to hide them. *Spoiler*
Now, the story does sound kind of interesting and what kid doesn’t wonder if Santa is real or not? However, the execution wasn’t as well done as I was hoping. While reading the story, you definitely get the feeling that this was written by a mother for her children. It is really personal and the author even uses the names of her children in the book. Not to mention, the awkward introduction of the story in which Jaden is obsessively talking about Minecraft and how it is so much more interesting than his real life. This, in particular, seemed really unnecessary and out of place with the rest of the story, especially because Jaden doesn’t discover the letter on his computer until doing a report for school. I know it’s important to develop characters, but that can easily be done in a couple of sentences. For example, I can re-write the introduction of the story like this:
“Hey, my name is Jaden and I’m a soon to be fourth grader! I love playing video games on my computer–Minecraft is my all time favorite! I’ve never had anything exciting happen in my life, until one day when I was searching for a saved file on my computer for a book report for school. I happened to come across a strange file entitled: “Letter to Jaden from Santa”. I thought that was strange, so I opened the file and read it…”
Of course, I’m not a great writer, but from reading so many books, I can kind of tell when something is just off and I have ideas that would make them flow a bit better.
Overall, I thought the plot was interesting and my children seemed to mildly enjoy the story, but I just didn’t like how it was written and the focus on the main character loving video games so much more than real life. I’m a huge gamer and am slowly introducing my son to quality video games, but I don’t believe in letting children think video games are more fun than life or school and portraying that in something he reads.
Also, despite it being a bit long, it flowed fairly well, though I feel like there is much more potential here for an even better story. Explaining how Santa is able to make all of his presents for every child in the world is something every kid wants to know.
I didn’t like the use of first-person for this story and felt that some things could have been excluded. Otherwise, I thought the writing was mediocre. A lot of the sentences used exclamation points, which was a bit overdone, and there were some sentences that I thought were silly and unnecessary, or ones with poor word choice. Removing them or re-writing them would help with the flow of the story. For instance, this paragraph:
“There it was, the letter Santa himself wrote to me last year. The one that thanked me for being a good boy all year; the one that thanked me for being a special kid; the one that thanked me for the milk and cookies I left him.
could be re-written to make it sound a bit better, in my opinion.
“There it was, the letter Santa himself wrote to me last year. The one that thanked me for being well-behaved all year, for being a special kid, and for the milk and cookies I left him.”
I think the worst thing about the book is the design. It is very tiny, which makes it a bit uncomfortable to hold, especially when you are reading aloud to a couple of kids. The book should have been standard picture book size.
I also didn’t like that there were full pages of text and that it almost seemed to be bolded. It was incredibly uncomfortable to read. I don’t mind full pages of text on one page, but there should be a picture on the other. It’s fine for older children, but younger children don’t have that kind of attention span. My son actually asked me why this book was so long and he NEVER says that. He can sit through Bill Peet books and those are a lot longer and he is always interested in those.
By making the book a standard picture book size and having an illustration on each page, it would make the book much more interesting looking. There is also a point in the book in which Jaden is reading the letter from Santa on his computer. It would have been a cute design to actually have the letter legible on the computer within the illustration instead of on the other page in bold font.
Honestly, I thought the illustrations, for the most part, were fairly well done. I prefer hand drawn illustrations over computer 99 percent of the time. There were just a couple of illustrations in which I thought the eyes of the characters were just a bit off, which made them look funny, but otherwise, they were very colorful and my kids loved looking at them.