A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that a major child character is very sick and eventually dies. Also the existence of Santa is doubted, though reaffirmed at the end.
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What's the story?
The author relates a memory of when, at the age of 6, he travels with his mother during WWII to spend Christmas with his aunt, uncle, and dying cousin Matthew. Just before he leaves his faith in Santa Claus is shattered when he sees the mean old man down the hall dressed as Santa and drinking wine.
Almost the first half of the book is taken up with details of their journey by train. When they do arrive, he finds that his bedridden cousin also doesn't believe in Santa. But each of them secretly yearns to believe again, and together they search for a way they can trust that will take them back to belief.
Is it any good?
Though what little action there is comes slowly, many children will be fascinated by the period details. The daylong train trip and the uncle's country store, both lovingly described, are relics of an earlier time, though the rest of the story is timeless. The loss and recovery of faith, though only in Santa Claus, is universal.
As always, Gary Paulsen tells his story in clear, unadorned prose, stripped to the bones of memory and feeling. For once he has an illustrator who matches his style with simple, lucid pencil drawings. But unlike most of Paulsen's work, this is a gentle story, without action or great drama, the kind your grandfather might tell you before you drop off to sleep.