Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Secret of St. Nicholas

There are many legends about the man who inspired the modern day Santa Claus - but almost all we know for certain was St. Nicholas was a man who loved God. In The Secret of St. Nicholas, Ellen Nibali explores one of the legends about St. Nick - one most historians think is true.

The author focuses on what Nicholas may have been like as boy, during a time when "most people had never even heard of Christmas." Nicholas' parents, who are wealthy, love telling their son the Christmas story. Whenever Nicholas hears the part where baby Jesus is placed in the feed trough, he exclaims, "God suprrised everyone!" Nick decides God likes surprises - especially since he tells us to "do good deeds in secret."

One day, after Nicholas' parents die, he learns a nobleman who lives abundantly at the cost of everything else, including his crumbling house and his three daughters, is about to sell his eldest daughter as a slave because he cannot afford to keep her, nor can he afford to pay a dowry for her to marry. Moved by the girl's tears, he runs home to grab a bag of gold coins to save her from the slave ship. Then he remembers Jesus' words to do good deeds in secret. So he waits until nightfall, then throws the bag of coins into the nobleman's house. The next morning, the daughters discover the coins in one of their stockings, hung up to dry. Soon after, the daughter is wed.

The nobleman doesn't learn his lesson, however, and Nicholas must repeat his good deed two more times, using up all the gold coins he possesses. At first, Nicholas can't imagine parting with the last of his money; how will he survive? Then he sees a bright, shiny star; it reminds him of the Christmas story. With renewed faith, he tosses his last bag of gold into the nobleman's house - but this time, the nobleman catches him. The nobleman admits his foolishness. Nicholas makes him promise not to reveal Nicholas' good deeds. The nobleman keeps Nicholas' secret - until he's on his death bed. Once his daughters know the truth, it's not long before everyone in the area knows all about Nicholas.
"As for Nicholas, he grew to be a great and holy man. So beloved was he that he was given a special name; Saint Nicholas. Stories say that with God's help St. Nicholas did many brave and marvelous deeds...Perhaps best of all were the three good deeds he did in secret. For on Christmas, the birthday of Jesus, boys and girls all over the world rush to see what new good deeds were done in the night. And that began with a boy named Nicholas and his three bags of gold."
What I Like: As a history buff, I love picture books about the true story of Nicholas. This one tells a Nicholas story not unfamiliar to children's picture books, but it does so in a fine fashion, nicely tying in the story to both the biblical Christmas and modern day Christmas. The illustrations by Lon Eric Craven are also attractive, realistic, and muted.

What I Dislike:

Overall Rating:
Very good.
Age Appeal: 4 - 8
Publishing Info: Fairland Books, 2010; ISBN: 978-0981815411; hardback, 32 pgs., $16.95.

Buy Now at for $11.53

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