Monday, December 17, 2007

A Book With Santa as Saint

While pondering a few years ago why my children have never seemed to have difficulty understanding that Santa Claus was actually St. Nicholas, I came across this book in our bookshelf, which I had purchased for my oldest son his first Christmas: Country Angel Christmas by Tomie De Paola. Then I realized that perhaps this oversized thin picture book is part of the reason.

De Paola is a great storyteller whose greatness does not lie in his consistency. Some of his books, like The Clown of God or Our Lady of Guadalupe, are masterpieces. Others are forgettable fluff. This book, as a story, is somewhat in between, though I think the illustrations are among his best, particularly if you are fond of country-style-simplicity. This lightweight, pleasant story is set in Heaven among the "Country Angels," a homier and humbler brand of angelic being, whose friend is St. Nicholas.

Although he is only part of the background, serving as a friendly mentor to the young trio of angelic heroes, St. Nicholas is clearly at home in Heaven, where he dresses like a lumberjack and drives a horse-drawn cart. But on Christmas Eve he dons his familiar suit and sets out to visit the children on earth. In this book, Heaven has Santa's snow and reindeer, but is much nicer than the North Pole. And at the end of the story, De Paola gives a nod to the iconic kneeling Santa as the angels join St. Nicholas in the stable to kneel before an unseen but radiant Christ Child.

De Paola smoothly links American folk tradition with Catholic tradition as he sets his Santa in Christ's Kingdom with a subtlety that escapes super-piety by its very naturalness. What better way to subtly form your child's imagination. This book is out of print, but can be found on Amazon and other sites.


Christine the Soccer Mom said...

I love DePaola's work! His Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs makes me cry nearly as much as The Clown of God does. (The Nana book has been put out again with color pictures, thanks to Mr. DePaola.)

Have you ever seen his book called "Holy Twins"? It's about Saints Benedict and Scholastica. Very nice. I could do without the dog books for the most part, but his books where his Catholicism shows are among my favorites.

twosacredhearts said...

I read "Clown of God" to the children using the FIAR program. We read the story so many times. And, each time we get more from it. It is a masterpiece!
As a college student I discovered Tomie in my Children's Literature class and have loved his work ever since.
Thanks for another great find Regina! I am looking forward to reading it to the kids.

Laura said...

I too love De Paola's work. Being Italian, I love his tribute to his home country in all his work through illustrations, colors, and Italian devotions to saints.

I second the recommendation for the "holy twins"! I also love his books "first one step, now another" about the relationship between a child and his grandfather and "Bill and Pete" about a crocodile and his toothbrush, a bird. :)

elena maria vidal said...

Sounds wonderful! My daughter will love those books. At four, she insists on calling Santa Claus "Nicholas."