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ereksonj

ereksonj

Santa from Cincinnati - Judi Barrett, Kevin Hawkes Okay, so I was just kidding when I shelved this as Biography. But the book does use the tone and structure of a biographical picturebook!

I'm going to go out on a limb here and declare the 'Reality of Santa Claus' book its own genre. It's really unlike any other holiday or occasional books, especially in the way it walks a line between fiction and non-fiction. Each author makes up different facts for the Santa story, so 'fiction' right? But the biographical structures in these stories so often fit exactly with the 'mythmaking' tradition we know from biographies of great figures like Abraham Lincoln and MLK (which are supposed to be non-fiction, but where authors also have clearly 'made up' an ideological vision and agenda).

I'm going to use a Randy Jackson rating--it was a-ight, a little pitchy. The story was playful enough to read, but bothersome in spots. Hawkes and Barrett have launched a thinly veiled attempt to unseat William Joyce as reigning king of 1930s-50s Christmas nostalgia (who in turn had to unseat Van Allsburg). The thin veil is Hawkes' painterly less-airbrushed style, which is more interesting to look at than Joyce's work. But the art deco toys and the red-cheeked, button-nosed figures all owe royalties to Joyce. Chart some new territory, gang!

The Santa we worship in America clearly emerged from the 1930s-50s, at the hands of mythmakers like songwriter Gene Autry. So Barrett's 'what if he was from Cincinnati' premise is worth the effort, but ends up flawed. Examples? 1. The idea that the naughty-nice list was purely a matter of industrial efficiency is weak, and b. The elves appear out of nowhere with no text to position them in the story! Don't editors read books before sending them to the printer anymore? I understand willing suspension of disbelief, but this is a major gap in a book that is supposed to provide an accounting for all the facts in the Santa story. If you have to explain the toys and the reindeer, you have to explain the elves.

What would be fun is a 'Reality of Santa' book based on primary sources! Jed and Jennifer were involved in a mockumentary a few years ago called Stalking Santa (great word play with 'stalking'), where a guy dedicates everything he has to finding proof of Santa's existence. That was a lot of fun.

As a believer and traditionalist, I prefer to stick with Mason & Hinke's Jolly Old Santa Claus or the sappy Rudolph book by May & Gillen. We own Joyce's Santa Calls and Van Allsburg's Polar Express, but Cincinnati was not much of a contribution to the genre.