Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

A Boy Called Christmas

A Boy Called Christmas

Matt Haig
Illustrator:  Chris Mould 
For ages 8 to 10
Random House, 2016   ISBN: 978-0399552656

Nikolas has a hard life. His mother died some years ago, he lives in a tiny, one-room house, food is scarce, and his father is so poor that Nikolas has only received two Christmas presents in his whole life. One was a sleigh that his father made for him and the other was a homemade turnip doll that his mother gave him.

One would think that things could not really get any worse, but they do. Nikolas’ father is invited to join a team of men who are going to travel to the Far North where they hope to find Elfhelm, the home of the elves. The men want to prove that elves really do exist and bring back proof to the king of Finland who will give them a reward of twelve thousand rubles. Even divided between seven men this will mean that Nikolas’ father will get a lot of money, money that will give him and his son a better quality of life.

Since Nikolas is still technically a child, and since his father will be away for two or three months, his father decides that his sister, Aunt Carlotta, will come and stay with Nikolas. Nikolas is dismayed. Aunt Carlotta is not a nice person and spending three whole months in her company is going to be dreadful.

In actual fact it turns out to be more than dreadful. The horrible woman makes Nikolas sleep outside and sends him into the forest every day to find food, most of which she eats herself. After three months go by she decides that her brother is not coming home again and her treatment of her nephew gets even worse. Nikolas decides that he has no choice but the leave home and travel to the Far North to find his father.

Using a map that an old woman gives him, Nikolas travels north. When he gets near to a very large mountain Nikolas is accosted by a very large and very angry reindeer. Nikolas sees that the reindeer has an arrow sticking out of one of its legs and carefully, patiently, he gains the reindeer’s confidence so that he can remove the arrow. One would think that a reindeer would run away after having an arrow removed from its leg, but this reindeer does not. Instead, it silently offers to carry Nikolas on its back and so the two keep on going north until the cold and lack of food is too much for them. The reindeer, Blitzen, keels over, trapping Nikolas’ leg under him and soon they are both unconscious.

This should have been the end for Nikolas and his reindeer friend, but it isn’t. The two travelers are found by a pair of elves who take care of them and take them back to their elf village, Elfhelm. Nikolas is hopeful that the elves will be able to tell him about his father, that they will help him. However, it turns out that the elves, who were once jolly, kind, and welcoming folk, have changed. They no longer want to have anything to do with non-elves, and they are particularly suspicious of humans. It turns out that a party of humans kidnapped one of the elf children and Nikolas cannot help thinking that the humans who did this terrible thing are the ones that his father is traveling with. Nikolas is thrown into prison and his future is grimmer than ever.

Young readers are going to thoroughly enjoy this exciting story, which is about a boy called Nikolas who ends up becoming a man called Father Christmas. The tale offers up a perfect combination of loss, hope and magic.