You accept and expect a special seasonal magic. You remember and take comfort in the wonder you witness over and over again on the eve of Christmas. The Little Reindeer (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, September 19, 2017) written and illustrated by Nicola Killen is an extraordinary nighttime journey.
It was Christmas Eve and Ollie had just gone to sleep when
jingle, jingle, jingle
she woke again with a start.
There was nothing to be seen outside her window but newly fallen snow. Ready to discover what made the sound, she left her bedroom and went outside with her sled. The silence of the night is broken with another trio of jingles.
Leaping on her sled, Ollie sped down the hill getting closer and closer to the sound of bells. A wind was beginning to blow, making the sound clearer. Running into the trees, she made a discovery. Like an ornament a thing not of the natural world was on a tree branch.
Surely this red collar with silver bells was another's prized possession. Another sound announced the arrival of a reindeer. It was a perfect fit.
With the return of the collar a gift was freely given. An unforgettable memory was made. A friendship only found in dreams became a reality.
The first of the four
jingle, jingle, jingle
sounds is a declaration, a declaration of possibility. Nicola Killen awakes a sense of adventure in all of us. We eagerly follow Ollie as she goes down the stairs, walks out of her home, slides down the hill and strolls into the woods. The suspense builds with each sound getting clearer and nearer until the collar is found and the reindeer appears. With what Nicola Killen tells us next, we are filled with the same jubilation as Ollie. Here is a passage prior to finding the collar.
The bells got louder as the wind
whistled and the trees shook.
Jingle, jingle, jingle.
Ollie was getting close.
She took a deep breath and, feeling very brave,
she ran into the darkness.
The first thing you realize when touching the opened dust jacket is the rough texture of the paper. The limited color palette in shades of soft black and white with spot touches of rich red is used throughout the title. The wintry Christmas Eve scene in which Ollie in her reindeer pajamas is standing extends over the spine to the back and to the edges of each flap. We can see on the back what Ollie cannot. Standing on a hill is the reindeer. This entire setting is one where the magic is ready to burst forth.
The book case is identical except the silver foil text is replaced with red. On the opening and closing endpapers the night sky holds a few stars, snowflakes and a winter wind. On the initial title page Ollie is snuggled in bed, beneath her patterned quilt, hugging her stuffed toy bunny and reindeer. On the following formal title page a luminous, eloquent winter wonderland is presented. We see a series of gentle hills, three new homes and the reindeer is moving in the opposite direction.
If ever a child loved reindeer, it's Ollie. On the first two page image we see her room wallpapered in a reindeer pattern, reindeer drawings hang on her walls, a reindeer is drawn on her chalkboard, a reindeer bookend is holding a row of books and on her pillowcase is a reindeer. An opened book about reindeer is on the floor. As she stands at the window the first of three perfectly aligned cutouts gives us a new view.
Nicola Killen alternates between two page pictures, single page images, edge to edge and single page visuals with rounded-corner frames. She also includes a glorious two page wordless illustration. The rosy cheeks on Ollie and her simple facial features endear readers to this child whose greatest wish is coming true.
One of my favorite of many illustrations spans two pages. From the right to the left tall, leafless trees stretch upward in the snowy sky. They cover the page from top to bottom on the right. To the left they open up into a small clearing. Ollie is leaning forward to take the red collar with the silver bells from a branch. Behind her is her sled with her stuffed bunny seated on it. A doorway made of branches, a cutout, shows more trees farther behind her. On the right owls, a squirrel, birds, mice and a wild rabbit watch Ollie. This is a breathtaking moment.
Written and illustrated by Nicola Killen The Little Reindeer is a charming tale of the quiet joy to be found on Christmas Eve. It's a time for wishes to be realized. You will want to enrich your story time telling with this title. It will be a welcome addition to your personal and professional collections.