The children’s books I like best are those that are beautiful, have a meaningful message, and evoke happy memories. On the short list of such books is William Joyce’s Christmas adventure, Santa Calls.
Those who are William Joyce fans are familiar with his vibrant illustrations in books such as Dinosaur Bob and Rolie Polie Olie. His inventive illustrations have not always been matched with an equally satisfying story. In Santa Calls, the story and illustrations are equally yoked. If anything, the story excels the marvelous illustrations.
The story centers on Art Atchinson Aimesworth who, with his best friend, Spaulding Littlefeets, is always looking for adventure. In particular, he likes to use his inventions to smash crime. Art also has a weakness: He is sometimes unkind to his sister, Esther. All that changes when he reluctantly lets Esther join him and Spaulding on a journey to the North Pole in answer to Santa’s call.
The story is packed with bold imagination: a flying canoe, Ali Aku of the Santarian Guard, the Dark Elves and their evil Queen, strategic use of licorice, and a wonderful supporting cast of people and animals including a puppy from the Canine Brigade. For those who love language, the story is richly satisfying, filled with quirks and astronomical expression. For those who love mystery, the story leaves a trail of clues and still manages to surprise.
But this is not an adventure just for adventure’s sake. All this staging serves a nobler cause. In the course of the journey, Art discovers a truth that will change him. And, as in all good literature and most of life, the change happens almost unnoticed. I still cannot read the final letter from Santa without wishing I had not teased my sister so unmercifully. (Forgive me, Beth.)
The language of the book includes words that will not easily be read by a young child. For example, “a Wild West Show and Animal Phantasmagoria” would challenge most young children-but hearing it is likely to delight them.
So gather the people you love-and those you have teased-around a Christmas fire. Snuggle under warm covers and enjoy a heart-warming adventure to the North Pole. Let your voice thunder in battle and coo the children to sleep. And let the tender message warm your soul. You’ll be making enduring memories.
William Joyce (1993). Santa Calls. New York: A Laura Geringer Book. To purchase, click here to purchase this book