It’s amazing to see whole new mythologies catch on and grow within months, in the 21st century, whereas in the past it took years to assemble them: the Harry Potter-verse, the Twilight-verse, even the Lego and Angry Birds franchises have exploded in ways that more traditional vehicles might envy.
Charity and Ryan Kountz (with the aid of their two small daughters, Bianca and Libby) have not, by contrast, chosen to build their series of children’s books around some fly-by-night group of neo-myths, but around the most venerable of the media-produced (if non-proprietary) franchises since the rise of television after WWII: Christmas Stories.
If your kids have read or seen all the Christmas tales and specials, have sat on Santa’s lap, and perhaps written out their Christmas lists, and (unlike when I was a boy) are not gratefully re-cycling these experiences year-after-year, but would enjoy something new, then they’ll (and you’ll) find plenty to like in Jason, Lizzy, and the Snowman Village (2012).
Veteran characters like Santa, Mrs. Claus, Rudolph, Jack Frost, Mother Nature, and Father Time, are joined by newcomers Morty the Snowman, Gary the Turkey, and Jonah the Penguin (reminding me of C-3P0 and R2-D2,) and several new elves. I can imagine this inter-textual system of allusions–which requires your children to know the older stories about Frosty, for example, unless you’d like to stop and explain them all–will delight the little ones, as they recognize old favorites.
The plot centers around two young siblings whose family has recently relocated from Chicago to Texas. The dearth of snow has dampened their “Christmas spirit,” and when they wish upon a star, they find themselves swept off to a land in the North that needs their help. The “Save Christmas!” adventure plot should be familiar to adults from the spate of movies (not all of them “G-rated”) of recent years.
This brings me to the real weight of the book, which is its heartfelt morality. For me, the theme was the forgiveness of mistakes, as nearly all the major characters make them, and have to earn forgiveness for them, or ask for Grace. Perhaps surprisingly, even Santa doesn’t come off as perfect here, and Jack Frost is given a mother, in flashback–we’re all human (well, and cute- animal). Secondarily, for me, were lessons about giftgiving proceeding from love and generosity, and not from ritual. The Kountzes even provide a series of Discussion Questions in the back matter, designed to get young readers to look deeper than the colorful adventurism.
The writing provides an accessible vocabulary which will nevertheless spur growth at points, an occasional lyrical passage appearing for the edification of the adults. This is my favorite, from the approach to Jack Frost’s castle: “The trees were close enough together their branches connected, creating an ice canopy. Light shone through, multicolored, as if being put through a prism. Light danced among the frozen landscape, as the ice sang its own beautiful song, crackling and tinkling as though in celebration.”
The book is about 60 pages long and chaptered (designed to consume 3 or 4 bedtimes) and is primarily for children ages 3-8, in my estimation. There’s not much scary violence (Jack Frost as main “villain” is not menacing, but rather misunderstood and reclusive, after an old argument with Santa.) Perhaps the dramatic climax of the book is when the two young children are stranded in a storm, and Lizzy learns to overcome her fear of thunder.