Monday, December 21, 2009

Sam's Sleigh Ride: Santa's Stowaway by Brandon Dorman

It was Christmas in Santa's workshop.

"HO, HO, HO!" said Santa to the elves. "It's time for the final inspection."

Sam was excited. It was his first year working in the toy shop...., but as Santa turned to leave, Sam asked, "Santa, why do we work so hard making all these toys? Why does Christmas matter?"

A light began to sparkle in Santa's eyes. "You'll have find that out for yourself."

It's easy to see where this one is going. Sam stows away on Santa's sleigh and is off for the midnight ride, soaring through the blue-black, star-studded night sky, landing on snowy roofs and stealing down chimneys behind Santa as he makes his stops. But it is only when Santa is caught in the act by a shy and wakeful small girl and Sam sees the look in the child's eyes when St. Nick puts the doll Sam made into her arms that Sam finally feels what makes Christmas matter. Santa smiles wisely, having sensed Sam's presence all along:

"You're very clever, my little friend." he said.

"You see, Sam, each year one curious elf stows away on my sleigh to discover what makes Christmas special. And did you find your answer?"

It's not an original plot line: Jan Brett also uses mischievous elves to add an engaging subplot to her lovely, rococo version of The Night Before Christmas (Tenth Anniversary Edition), but her stowaways are merely pranksters. In Brandon Dorman's newest, Santa's Stowaway(Greenwillow, 2009), Sam is on a mission to find out the reason behind all this gift giving, a question that occurs to all of us at some time during the Christmas craziness. Dorman's saftig computer-assisted art, evocative of 1950s illustrative work, glows with color, comfort, and good cheer to reassure the young reader that Santa really means it when he makes that long wintry trek.

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