Jon Agee has made a great career from picture books about anti-heroes (Nothing, Hyperion, 3–7 years; Terrific, di Capua/Hyperion, 3–7 years) and oddballs (The Other Side of Town, di Capua/Scholastic, 3–7 years), but here’s one about a true children’s champion: Santa Claus. And, despite the fact that its premise — where did Santa come from? — seems like it should already have been done to death, Little Santa (Dial, 3–7 years) is the freshest Christmas book I’ve seen in years.
1. Your first book, If Snow Falls (Pantheon, 3–7 years), was also a Christmas book, published in 1982. What do you know about Christmas now that you didn’t know about then?
JA: That Santa exists! I had always doubted this — that is, until I began the exhaustive research for Little Santa.
2. You create some of the best page-turns in the business. How do you decide when/where to move things along?
JA: Every picture book has moments that cry out for the element of surprise. I can usually identify them when the book is in the early sketch form. Then it’s all about how best to exploit them, using shift of scale, perspective, light, distance. And if that doesn’t work, you can always precede the page-turn with the word “Suddenly—!!!!”
3. What is the best present you never received?
JA: Arggh! It was when I was seven or eight, just after I’d ditched the training wheels on my bicycle, that somebody invented the Big Wheel. Suddenly, all these little kids were cruising around in super-cool, low-riding choppers. I was born too early! [Ed.: It’s not too late!]
4. What do you think became of Santa’s siblings, Larry, Mary, Willy, Millie, Zoe, and Joey Claus?
JA: Millie and Mary ran a lucrative greeting card company that expanded to Santa-themed merchandise: mugs, T-shirts, bumper stickers. Willy and Larry — rejecting the holiday altogether — became rabbis. Zoe worked for many years in the mailroom at Santa’s toy factory, until she alerted OSHA to workplace safety hazards at the wood-joining facility and was forced out. She now works as a paralegal for a firm representing the plaintiffs (562 elves) in the case. Joey was always a bit of a loner. He wandered the world for a while. Last I heard he was pumping gas in Saskatoon.
5. And what if there is no chimney?
JA: That is a horrible thought.
From the November 2013 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.