You know Dasher and Dancer and the Claus children, Larry, Mary, Willy, Millie, Joey, Zoe, and Santa, right? Okay, maybe you haven’t heard of those other Claus kids, but you definitely have heard of Santa. Roger is a big fan of this one and here is what he had to say.
It’s a tricky business, this Santa book thing. Jon Agee is the perfect writer and illustrator to take on such a project. His dry visual and written humor, coupled with his deft gouache work, make this a Santa book for the ages.
Little Santa, in his adorable hooded red suit, is born into a family of stick-in-the-muds. They are tired of all the hard work that living in the North Pole requires — the wood needs to be chopped, snow shoveled, fish caught, quilts mended — and they are miserable. But Santa is a sunny little fellow. He loves the frozen north. He can scoot up and down the chimney, allowing him a way out when the house is buried in snow. He digs a kind reindeer out of the snow and flies away on his back to find help for Santa’s grumpy family trapped in the blizzard. Agee makes this whole backstory to Santa seem believable, including the dour Claus family who eventually move to Florida, where the weather is much more inviting.
Roger loves Agee’s use of white space, and there is a lot of it here. The family table is bathed in it, and Santa’s dandy red suit really pops in this sea of white and very muted green and blue clothing the background. Later we have the post-blizzard scene with miles of snow drifts. It’s only when Santa meets the elves that we get a full spread of color (and that color is still pretty darn muted so we can really see Santa). I also appreciate the dark outlines of Agee’s work and the facial expressions of those crabby Clauses. It’s hard not to laugh at their hunched-over demeanor, the weight of the world on their broad shoulders, especially when sunny Santa joyfully pops off of every page.
It’s been awhile (1986) since a Santa book was recognized by the Caldecott committee (The Polar Express). Is it about time for another?