A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What 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.
Talk to your kids 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?
- Author: Dean Pitchford
- Genre: Holiday
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Holidays, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
- Publication date: October 13, 2013
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 272
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: July 13, 2017
Our editors recommend
For kids who love holidays and coming-of-age stories
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.