Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Santa Calls written and illustrated by William Joyce

It's 1908, and orphaned inventor and jack-of-all-trades Art Atchinson lives in Abilene, Texas with his aunt and uncle, and his younger sister Esther, to whom he is pretty mean. Along with his best friend Spaulding, Art is a pretty brave guy, who loves adventure and smashing crime, but who, deep down, feels a sadness and loneliness that never leaves him since the loss of his parents.

Then, a few days before Christmas, a mysterious package arrives that turns out to be an invitation from Santa Claus to come to the North Pole. Inside the box is a flying machine, which they christen the Yuletide Flyer, since it is now Christmas Eve when they finally leave for the North Pole. At first, Art wants to leave Esther behind, but gives in at the last minute and the three immediately head north.

Landing in the North Pole, Art, Spaulding, and Esther are picked up by Ali Aku, captain of the Santarian Guard, who warns them that they must get to their destination before nightfall, when the Dark Elves and their evil Queen come out. Too late, they are pelted with snowballs by the Elves, but fight back, and Esther even manages a direct hit on the Dark Queen, who threatens that Esther has not seen the last of her.

Amid all the fanfare of their arrival, Art asks Santa just why they were called to the North Pole. Santa's answer: "Some mysteries are best left unsolved." As they take off in Santa's sleigh to make the night's deliveries, the Evil Queen manages to snatch Esther from the sleigh and take her to her castle. Art insists that he must save her, after all, she's his sister. So Art, Spaulding, and Ali Aku sneak in and rescue Esther, while pelting the Dark Elves with candy bombs and licorice as they make their getaway, back to Santa's sleigh.

Arriving back in Abilene after all their Christmas Eve excitement, Art once again asks Santa why he was summoned to the North Pole, and once again Art is told: "Some mysteries are best left unsolved."

The next morning, Art and Spaulding find splendid new gifts from Santa. For Art, it is a puppy from Santa's Canine Brigade, for Spaulding a new canoe with Yuletide Flyer II painted on it, but for Esther there are only two letters. Does Esther get what she wanted for Christmas? In the end, and I mean that literally, only Esther, Santa, and the reader know the answer to that. For Art, "Some mysteries [remain] best left unsolved."

I thought this would be a fun book to start off the holiday season. My kids love it. The first two times we read it, I didn't tell them about Esther's letters from Santa (which are pasted onto the back flyleaf), just let them speculate on why Santa had summoned Art to the North Pole. When we finally read the letters, they were surprised, but that led to discussions about importance of siblings and getting along.

Then we talked about the illustrations. The stylized art deco illustration on the cover was the first thing that attracted me to Santa Calls when it was first issued in 1993.  It is not your typical warm-and-fuzzy Christmas cover, but it totally works, in part, because of the story that accompanies the illustrations throughout the book. Art deco flourished in the 1920s and 1930s and the story in Santa Calls definitely carries a kind of Perils of Pauline feel to it (no, Esther in no Pauline, trust me).

I personally loved Joyce's rendering of the North Pole, so different from the quiet busy Santa's workshop full of elves making toys. Joyce has turned it into a city that may remind fans of Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz film. But, that's where the resemblance ends, since Joyce has kept the figure of Santa the same kind, caring, generous figure he has always been.

Santa Calls is an imaginative Christmas adventure with some surprising twists that make it an annual family/classroom favorite.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was purchased for my personal library

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