Nickel Bay Nick

Common Sense Media says

Tween boy must salvage Christmas in fun, moving adventure.





What parents need to know

Educational value

Some discussion of Japanese ninjas, the world of international espionage and organ transplants.

Positive messages

Doing charitable acts and putting others first will bring you joy and fulfillment. Honest communication among family members is important. If you give your word to someone, you should honor it. A difficult past does not condemn someone to a dark future; anyone can change. 

Positive role models

Sam Brattle's an angry, troubled fifth grader with a lengthy list of run-ins with the police for shoplifting, vandalism, and other malicious mischief. He's rude to his father and has trouble forging friendships, except with a pair of eighth graders, one of whom constantly goads him into these behaviors. Sam's not a great role model, to say the least. But the story charts his transformation into a kinder, more considerate person who vows to be more careful about who he hangs out with and have more compassion for his father, who's had struggles of his own. The real Nickel Bay Nick's a Good Samaritan and a philanthropist who gives away hundreds of dollars in his community but wants no credit for himself.


A couple of intense episodes, one involving falling off a roof, the other a dangerous chase. Also, some rock-throwing vandalism. There's mention of Sam's heart transplant at age 4.

Not applicable
Not applicable

Casual, non-promotional mentions of a number of products and chain stores: Nike, Rolex watch, Altoids breath mints, Chevy Silverado, Honda Accord, BMW, JC Penney, Gap, Baby Gap, Jamba Juice, Brookstone, 7-Eleven, Hello Kitty.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A couple of brief mentions of smoking, including one character who "stomps back and forth, puffing on one cigarette after another." At a holiday party, adults are described as drinking. A man in one historical anecdote is "hopping mad and kinda drunk."

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Nickel Bay Nick is a Christmas-themed coming-of-age novel about troubled and troublemaking Sam Brattle, 11, who gets a chance to redeem himself when he's blackmailed by a mysterious neighbor to perform secret acts of charity around their economically depressed town. Sam's done a lot of bad things around town, from shoplifting to vandalism to malicious pranks, and he views himself as an under-achieving loser. But deep down he's a sensitive soul, and the story of how he salvages his small town's Christmas, told in his voice, charts his slow transformation in the right direction. There's considerable fibbing and subterfuge involved in his good deeds, and he does some extremely dangerous things (such as hanging onto the back of a moving truck), but the cause is noble and it's hard not to root for Sam, who's had a lot of tough breaks in life.

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What's the story?

Every year before Christmas, a mysterious, unseen Good Samaritan known as NICKEL BAY NICK surreptitiously places thousands of dollars worth of specially marked one hundred dollar bills into cars, shopping bags, and even the pockets of unsuspecting townsfolk of Nickel Bay. This year, however, Nickel Bay Nick's strangely absent during the run-up to Christmas, leaving people in the economically struggling town depressed. Enter Sam Brattle, an unhappy, troublemaking 11-year-old with a lengthy rap sheet of petty crimes, ranging from shoplifting to minor vandalism and assorted cruel pranks. When Sam mistakenly damages the house of a neighbor, the aggrieved Mr. Wells makes a deal with him: In exchange for Mr. Wells not reporting Sam's vandalism (and other crimes) to the police, Sam must spend his Christmas vacation helping Mr. Wells, who's temporarily in a wheelchair following an accident. The crusty, exacting Mr. Wells is the shadowy Nickel Bay Nick, but this year his injury prevented him from working his stealthy money magic around town. Now Sam must become Nickel Bay Nick, and in the 12 days after Christmas, learn the tricks and techniques Mr. Wells, a former government spy, imparts to complete various missions in Operation Christmas Rescue, while keeping his and Mr. Wells' identity a secret. Nothing's easy, and there's a chance of failure at every turn. But over the course of two weeks, the two learn much about each other and themselves.

Is it any good?


Nickel Bay Nick is an engaging, well-written, and sometimes funny book that has plenty of heart. Author Dean Pitchford (best known for Captain Nobody) effectively puts us inside the mind of fifth grader Sam, who narrates his adventures as a secret Santa, dispensing hundred dollar bills to strangers around the town of Nickel Bay at the behest of a mysterious neighbor. Sam's a complex kid -- physically fragile due to a heart transplant when he was 4; unhappy at home since his mother divorced his dad; strongly influenced by a criminally minded eighth grader who's always getting him into trouble; filled with self-loathing and lacking in self-confidence.

All of Sam's fears, insecurities, doubts, and anger come through in his narration, but so does his fundamental goodness and compassion. His adventures in clandestine philanthropy are exciting and at times nerve-wracking, as each mission to give away the money becomes progressively more difficult. The unpredictable ending's highly satisfying and surprisingly emotional. Kids will have no trouble relating to Sam's ups and downs.     

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why Sam likes to hang out with eighth grader Jaxon. Why would someone want to spend time with someone who's both mean to him and always gets him into trouble?

  • Holiday stories in books and movies often have the theme of saving a community's Christmas. Can you think of any others?

  • Is fibbing to keep an important secret OK?

Book details

Author:Dean Pitchford
Topics:Adventures, Friendship, Holidays, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date:October 13, 2013
Number of pages:272
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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