The Story of Santa Claus by Joseph A McCullough illustrated by Peter Dennis

As the holidays draw near, the public or school library can’t have enough Christmas stories on the shelf. While children tend to be drawn towards the fiction holiday books, many like to peruse the nonfiction as well – and to young children, the story of Santa Claus is as real as it gets. The Story of Santa Claus by Joseph A McCullough blends the two, treating the topic of Santa seriously, being careful not to destroy any beliefs held by the young reader. The author has gathered tales and folklore from various cultures, combining them to give a plausible background of the Santa tradition. The Story of Santa Claus reads more like a Tall Tale including miraculous events while focusing on some of the religious aspects surrounding the beginnings of the legend. There are four chapters. Chapter One focuses on Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, who lived over 1700 years ago and is known as Saint Nicholas the Patron Saint of children and sailors. Chapter Two furthers the legend of Saint Nicholas, describing the life and legacy of Nicholas of Scion who lived three hundred years later. Chapter Three, The Gift Givers, explores the Middle Ages where small presents, candy, and fruit were distributed on December 6th, the date of Nicholas’ death (a Holy Day for the Catholic Church). Finally in Chapter Four, the modern day concept of Santa Claus developed in Western Europe and the United States during the 1800 – 1900s is examined, including the influences of poet Clement Clarke Moore’s The Night Before Christmas and the art work of Thomas Nast. There’s even some information on Rudolph.

While the book upholds the existence of Santa for younger children, the reading level and content is more suited for older children, especially since the history of Saint Nicholas includes violence and executions along with an unexplainable mysticism. Although slim, this book is extremely detailed and complex, so it isn’t necessarily a good read aloud for the youngsters, despite the fascinating (and at times horrifying) folk tales. Parents would need to edit and/or paraphrase this title if they chose it for a bedtime story.

For a child, or even an adult, curious about the origins of Santa, Joseph McCullough has done the research and consolidated his findings into a concise and interesting tale which covers the highlights necessary for a basic understanding of the topic. However, it is the illustrations by Peter Dennis which elevate this book to another level. There is the familiar Santa as a jolly fat man in traditional garb carrying a bulging sack over his shoulder, but also other interpretations of Nicholas over the centuries. Each drawing is magnificent, with incredible details sure to delight the reader, both young and old.

With this little picture book you get a lot of “bang for the buck”. I would like to thank Netgalley and Osprey Adventures for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Four stars.

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