Santa Calls

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Santa Calls Book Poster Image
Dazzling art, high adventure in wild ride to North Pole.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of interesting vocabulary, including "bravado," "quaked," "christened," "polar ice cap," "spyglass," "tundra," "barrage," "metropolis," "wretched." Old-fashioned phrases, mainly out of Art's mouth, including "By the moons of Jupiter," "By the stars above," and "Holy Mackerel!"

Positive Messages

"You must always go to bed before you see Santa. It's the rule." "Some mysteries are better left unsolved." Christmas wouldn't be the same without your sister around. Implied: Be ready for adventure, fight to defeat evil, and do whatever it takes to save your loved ones. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Art and his friend Spaulding Littlefeets are brave and smart and work hard to build clever inventions. Esther is brave, a good shot, and helpful in battle. Spaulding is a Comanche, shown wearing both Western and Native dress. Art is not just a one-dimensional hero. Mentioning his vulnerability on page one adds depth to his character: "But despite all his bravery and bravado, there was, since the loss of his parents, a sadness in Art that could never be touched and a loneliness that was always with him." 

Violence & Scariness

The Dark Elves attack and our heroes fight back with snowballs and slingshot. Mention that Esther "scored a direct hit on the Dark Queen herself," but it's not shown. The elves capture Esther and take her to the queen's castle. They shoot arrows at our heroes, who fight back by throwing a candy bomb that makes them scatter and by launching licorice sticks at them. Mention of Esther being "held prisoner before a giant boiling cauldron encircled by an army of Dark Elves," but it's not shown. 

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that William Joyce's Santa Calls is a lushly illustrated, elaborate fantasy set in 1908. Orphaned cowboy kid Art, his little sister, Esther, and his best friend, Spaulding Littlefeets, a Comanche, travel in from their prairie home in Abilene, Texas, to the North Pole in a flying machine dubbed the Yuletide Flyer, sent by Santa himself. Once in Toyland, they have a grand adventure battling an army of Dark Elves and their evil queen. There's a snowball fight, the Dark Elves capture Esther, and there's a big battle to rescue her, but the weapons the kids use are a candy bomb and licorice sticks. 

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What's the story?

It's 1908 and a package arrives at the Abilene, Texas, home of Art Atchison Aimesworth, an orphan who lives with his aunt, uncle, and little sister, Esther. The kids and Art's best friend, Spaulding Littlefeets, a Commanche, find instructions: "Open the box. Assemble the contents. Come NORTH. Yours, S.C." They figure out it's from Santa Claus, and Esther says, "Gee whiz. SANTA CALLS." Inside the box is a flying machine, but the basket they were to ride in is damaged, so they attach Spaulding's canoe. On Christmas Eve, they take off for the North Pole, where they meet Santa and battle Dark Elves and their evil queen.

Is it any good?

This wildly imaginative picture book has exciting adventure, glorious world-building, clever language, and a sweet sibling story with conflict, redemption, and resolution. Santa Calls takes readers on a mysterious journey to see Santa and his magical world and fight a noble fight, although they won't learn why Santa summoned them till they get back home. 

The text is rich, colorful, and long, making it great for read-aloud. There's lots to look at in the detailed illustrations, so kids may want to linger on spreads before turning the page. The story is both sweepingly grand and intensely personal, as it follows a boy who learns not to underestimate his little sister.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what Toyland at the North Pole looks like in Santa Calls. How is it different from the way it's been pictured in other books and movies? How have you imagined the place where kids' toys are made for Santa Claus to deliver? 

  • What do you think of Art and Esther's relationship? What makes him change his mind about how valuable she is?

  • Have you ever imagined a flying machine to take you on wild adventures? Draw a picture of one you'd like to fly. 

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