Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, November 25, 2019

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like . . . 2019

Children are most excellent observers.  No detail escapes their attention.  Most educators can attest to the fact their students notice if they get a haircut, are wearing different glasses, switch out their style of shoes or if they alter their everyday watch or jewelry.  Even the smallest change in the classroom or library setting will prompt a question.  That's another wonderful quality of children; their curiosity is rarely satisfied.

They want answers when something out of the ordinary happens.  Santa's Secret (Sleeping Bear Press, August 15, 2019) written by Denise Brennan-Nelson with illustrations by Deborah Melmon addresses a suspicious situation a little girl sees.  She is determined to discover the truth.

My parents had planned an adventure one day.
We loaded the car and went on our way.

From their home to the center of the city, the girl, her parents and grandmother sing Christmas carols.  (The family dog looks happy, too.)  Perched on her father's shoulders, the child has a perfect view of the festive parade.  Soon a red sleigh, carrying Santa, passes them.  The crowd roars with delight.

As the family walks along the city streets, the girl notices another Santa.  He is not the same Santa as she saw in the sleigh.  After announcing this out loud, her mother tells her Santa needs helpers to complete all his work.  Who is the real Santa?  Her grandmother tells her it's Santa's secret.  Only he knows who the real Santa is.  If Santa knows, this little girl wants to know, too.

Later, approaching Santa in his chair, the girl, armed with a pad of paper, pencil and questions, is ready to reveal the truth.  She asks question after question from simply wanting his name to the reindeer's favorite food and then to who helps him decide what presents to give. Does he ever take a vacation?  When she asks him if he is the real Santa, he answers without words.

When this Santa asks her a question, she complies and then goes with her family to a cozy coffee spot.  Sipping on her hot chocolate, she ponders her notes.  She then sees a startling sight.  Without hesitation, she moves to the quiet corner.  Before she can utter more than an

Excuse me

spoken words have her suddenly turning toward her mother.  When she looks again, her surprise turns to satisfaction.  Sometimes being a secret keeper is more important than being a secret solver.

With her opening sentences author Denise Brennan-Nelson promptly brings the joy, the secrecy and the magic of the season to readers.  This story in rhyme, each two lines conclude with rhyming words, creates an inviting cadence. A lively mix of text and conversation keeps us eagerly turning the pages.  Readers find themselves as anxious as the little girl to solve the puzzle.  Not only, through the narrative, do we come to understand the character, but we know her family to be supportive, loving and wise.  Here is a passage.

I had questions for Santa.  I would see what he knew---
About reindeer and elves and the rest of the crew.

I got out my notebook.  I would crack this case wide!
From a good detective, the truth cannot hide.

The wintry background in pale teal, with swirling snowflakes above the snowy ground, spreads from the left, back, across the spine, to the right, the front, on the matching dust jacket and book case.  The smiling faces of the three Santa Clauses, their clothing, glasses and body postures radiate happiness.  By placing the girl, full of curiosity, with her pencil and notepad full of questions, in the foreground, our curiosity is piqued also.  What exactly is Santa's secret?

To the left, on the back, a portion of the interior text, is placed beneath the child and her grandmother.  Her grandmother is whispering to her.  This makes us more excited to uncover the truth.

The opening and closing endpapers are as white as new-fallen snow.  With a page turn we see the family dog, tail wagging, sniffing the notebook and nearby pencil.  On the title page, the girl is seated on Santa's lap.  She and Santa are looking at each other with questioning eyes.

Illustrator Deborah Melmon has chosen a full-color palette with vibrant hues exuding warmth and cheer.  She alternates her image sizes from double-page pictures to full-page illustrations.  For emphasis on pacing several smaller visuals are grouped together on single pages or as part of a double-page image.  Perspectives are similarly shifted to accentuate emotions or moods in a moment.

One of my many favorite illustrations is the first double-page picture.  On the left from a few homes among rolling hills in the country, the road stretches into a bustling city.  With stones walls on either side of the road, the family's bright red car travels.  A Christmas wreath hangs on the front.  Everyone inside the car is singing, wearing their winter clothing.  The right side shows the city buildings festooned in greenery and lights.  Large evergreens are glowing with lights and shiny ornaments.  A large happy snowman watches everything and everyone from a rooftop.  When you look at this page (and all the following pages), it's like holding happiness in your hands.

For inquisitive readers with a thirst for the truth, Santa's Secret written by Denise Brennan-Nelson with illustrations by Deborah Melmon is a scrumptious holiday delight.  The playful, rhythmic words with the vivid, merry images will fully engage readers.  You'll want to add this title to your holiday collections to keep the spirit of Santa Claus strong in readers' hearts.

To discover more about Denise Brennan-Nelson and Deborah Melmon and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Denise Brennan-Nelson has an account on Twitter.  Deborah Melmon has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  To view interior pages, visit the publisher's website.

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