Sometimes, your parents have to leave.
Mostly, they just go to the grocery store or to work or to give somebody a ride. They’re gone for a few minutes or a few hours and whoop, they’re back. You barely ever know they’re gone. But sometimes, your parents leave for a longer time and in the new book “A Boy Called Christmas” by Matt Haig (c.2016, Knopf, $16.99, 240 pages), their absence changes everything.
Nickolas knew enough not to ask for gifts.
There wasn’t always money for food, let alone extras, which made his father feel bad and when Papa felt bad, so did Nikolas. Nikolas had a turnip doll his mother carved for him before she died, and the sleigh Papa made for him. That was enough, he supposed.
But it wasn’t enough for Papa. Not at all, so when a square-jawed hunter visited their cabin one cold summer day, Papa leaped at the offer the hunter made. It would require a two-month journey north in search of the legendary Elfhelm, and he’d need proof that elves really existed, but the money would buy a new cabin and all the toys a boy could want. Nikolas was not invited.
Three months later, after living with Aunt Carlotta and sleeping on the ground because she confiscated his mattress, Nikolas decided to run away. Papa was late returning, and Nikolas was afraid his father was lost. With his tiny pet mouse, Miika, in his pocket, Nikolas set out northward through the snow. Surely, Papa was up that way, past Lake Blitzen and Very Large Mountain .
The journey was a dangerous one. First, they encountered an angry, injured reindeer, and when Nikolas helped the animal, it began to follow him. The weather was brutally cold, and Nikolas’s shoes fell apart (luckily, he had a reindeer to ride). But he knew he was on the right track when he found his father’s cap — a red cap lined with white fur, and a pompom on the end.
But the right track turned out to be the wrong thing when elves captured Nikolas and put him in a chimney with a Truth Fairy and an ogre. Humans were bad, the elves said. They deserved to be left in a chimney.
We all have to start somewhere, and for the middle-schooler who wants a fun read this holiday season, “A Boy Called Christmas” is as good a place as any.
With a twist of humor and a few unexpected additions, author Matt Haig keeps kids guessing throughout his novel. Nikolas’ adventures fit right in with the usual Santa legend — all the elements are there — and many of those plot bits are clever enough to sneak up on a kid. On the other hand, this book may be predictable, but with its light-as-a-snowflake holiday feel, children won’t mind.
If your child is in need of something to get into the holiday mood, then here’s a great early-Christmas gift. For 9-to-14-year-olds who love a good (and funny) fairy tale, “A Boy Called Christmas” is a book they’ll never leave.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.