For parents who wish to explain that Santa Claus isn't real, but is based upon a historical figure who revered Christ, Harold Myra's Santa, Are You for Real? may prove helpful.
The book begins in rhyme, introducing us to a young boy named Todd who overhears some boys his age mocking Santa as obviously fake. Upset, Todd heads home, where his dad asks what's wrong. Todd explains that Santa is a big lie. There's no way he can fit down a skinny chimney, or fly with reindeer.
The text then switches to prose, as the father tells Todd about Saint Nicholas. He explains that Nicholas lived about 300 years after Jesus was born, and that "he loved Jesus very much." He then tells one favorite story about Nicholas. It seems that in Nicholas' town, there was a poor man with three daughters. They didn't have enough money for dowries, so the girls could not marry. To help solve their problem, Nicholas snuck to their house one night and dropped money into the eldest daughter's room, "and it fell into a stocking hung there to dry."
The eldest daughter had a beautiful wedding, and soon Nicholas anonymously dropped money into the stocking of the middle daughter. Finally, Nicholas gifted money to the youngest daughter...but the father awoke and caught Nicholas in the act. Nicholas asked to remain anonymous, and the father agreed. And so Nicholas continued to give to the needy for the rest of his life, trying to spread Jesus' love and kindness. After Nicholas died, some people called him a saint, and for many, many years, people told Nicholas' story and how he gave gifts.
"In Holland they call him Sinterclaas. In England they call him Father Christmas. In France he is called Pere Noel. In the United States he is called Santa Claus. The real Saint Nicholas is now in heaven with Jesus. When you see a Santa in a store or a parade, think of Saint Nick...Of course some children know all about Santa and presents and reindeer but forget all about Jesus. For Saint Nick, that would ruin Christmas! Jesus was Nick's whole life."
As the book takes us back to Todd and his father, the text turns back into rhyme. Todd exclaims he's going to be like Saint Nick. He runs upstairs and finds toys to give away. He piles them under the Christmas tree for his siblings to find the next morning. As the book ends, Todd looks out the window and thinks he sees...Saint Nicholas.
What I Like: Although this book presents a simplification of how we got Santa Claus from the real Nicholas, it's a good introduction for children. I also like the way the author emphasizes Nicholas' desire to spread Jesus' love by giving, and how Todd is shown "catching that spirit" at the end of the book. The illustrations, by Jane Kurisu, are sketchy, but fun and approachable.
What I Dislike: I really dislike the ending. Todd thinks he see "Saint Nicholas," but Nick is in traditional Santa garb with a sack on his back and a "jolly old grin." This seems to reinforce the idea of a modern Santa, and confuses the entire point of the book.
Overall Rating: I've struggled with whether this book deserves a "Very Good" or just a "Good" rating, because of the last page. But because I think every page but the last does a good job of explaining the "real Santa," I'm giving it a "Very Good" rating.
Age Appeal: According to the publisher 9 - 12, but I'd say more like 2 - 8.
Publishing Info: Thomas Nelson, 1997, ISBN: 0849914922; hard back, $7.99.
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