If you're trying to instill the spirit of giving in your child, and you'd like to teach them a little big about Christmas lore, The Legend of St. Nicholas (A Story of Christmas Giving) by Dandi Daley Mackall is a great choice.
Prolific Christian children's book author Mackall offers up this tale not in her famous rhyme, but in straight prose. She begins by introducing us to an older boy named Nick, who is grumpily Christmas shopping with his father. Although he's supposed to be buying his brothers gifts, Nick finds himself mostly thinking about keeping enough of his gift money to buy himself a CD. Then Nick overhears the store Santa telling a story to some younger children.
The story is about a boy who lived long ago and was named Nicholas. He grew up with wealthy parents, but managed to still notice a lot of needy people in the world. When his parents died, Nicholas was unsure what to do with his life. He asked his friends what they'd do if they had a great deal of money. One boy told him he'd pay all the family bills, since his father was out of work. Another boy said he'd buy his mother a much needed coat. And a girl said she'd pay for her sisters' dowries, so they could marry.
That Christmas night, Nicholas heard the church bells and thought about the wise kings who brought gifts to baby Jesus. There's no better time to give gifts than on the celebration of Jesus' birth, he decided. He rushed out and threw coins through his friend's window, so his family's bills could be paid; he threw a beautiful coat through the window of another friend's house, so his mother could be properly clothed. He also attempted to throw dowry money through the window of his third friend's house, but the windows were locked. He looked heavenward, praying for God's guidance...and saw his friend's chimney...
Modern day Nick is stirred by this tale of the real Santa Claus, and with renewed Christmas joy, not only finds just the right gifts for his brothers, but uses up his remaining money buying gifts for poor children.
"Nick felt sure he'd never look at Christmas the same way. He wanted to remember the gifts of Saint Nicholas, the gifts of the wise kings, and most of all, God's gift of baby Jesus."
What I Like: I like the interweaving of a modern tale of a child who learns the real meaning of Christmas and the joy of giving alongside one of the historical legends of St. Nicholas, the inspiration for the make-believe Santa Claus. Guy Porfirio's illustrations are also beautiful: realistic and colorful without being gaudy.
What I Dislike: Nothing.
Overall Rating: Excellent.
Age Appeal: According to the publisher, 4 - 8, but my 3 year old also likes it.
Publisher Info: Zonderkidz, 2007; ISBN: 0310713277; hardback; $15.99