Dear Santasaurus by Stacy McAnulty
Illustrated by Jef Kaminsky
Boyds Mills Press 2013
Ernest B Spinosaurus isn’t wasting any time telling Santasaurus what he wants for Christmas: he writes his first letter to Santasaurus on the first of January and continues to write throughout the year. And he’s determined to stay on Santasaurus’ Nice List! Through Ernest’s letters, at once hopeful and cheeky, we get to know this young dinosaur, about his friend Ty, his little sister Amber, and his desire for a Jurassic Turbo Scooter X9. He wants to stay on Santasaurus’ “nice” list, and keeps up a steady stream of letters partly to explain away his naughtiness.
Ernest may be a dinosaur, but really he’s a typical young boy that children (and their parents) will be able to relate to easily. Coupled with Jef Kaminsky’s cartoon-like illustrations, this book reminded me a lot of children’s television shows. Granted, the ones I’ve started letting my two-year-old watch (yes, it’s come to that, there’s only so long you can hold out!) are predominately British and a mix of fancy 3D CGI and old-style animation a la Peppa Pig, but they all tend to have one thing in common: using animals (like pigs or bees) or mythological creatures (like fairies or elves) or fictional characters (like robots or aliens) to make everyday stories more interesting, as well as to show a universality to human stories. Children’s books are, likewise, often used to help dispel the classic “us vs. them” dichotomy that seems to rise in children instinctually, and I do find the books to be less obvious than the TV shows (and I have zero guilt in letting my child read books!).
Dear Santasaurus is a sweet, funny and very entertaining book, a picture book for older children. It was too long and too advanced for my boy, who doesn’t really remember his first two Christmas’ and is only just getting his head around the typical Christmas symbols: Santa etc. The concept of naughty and nice, or of writing to Santa, these are a bit too abstract for him yet. The story itself has lovely context jokes where the illustrations play off the text – and vice versa – in really fun ways, but likewise my boy is too young yet to get any of the humour, or even really understand the situations or what Ernest is really saying in his letters. It’s one I will have to wait a couple more years before getting out again to read to him, which isn’t a bad thing. If your child is five or older, they will get a lot out of this.
Here’s a taste:
For Christmas, I want rainbow underwear with white polka dots. Seven hundred pairs of underwear. And Ty wants a thousand pairs of socks. That’s it. No toys. No scooter.
Ernest B Spinosaurus
PS: Just kidding. APRIL FOOL’S DAY!! Ha ha ha.
Yesterday’s letter was a joke. You knew that, right? I do NOT want seven hundred pairs of underwear for Christmas. I don’t want any underwear. I want the Jurassic Turbo Scooter X(.
Please, please, please do not bring me any underwear.
Ernest B Spinosaurus
PS: Ty doesn’t want socks, either.
Today, I scored two soccer goals (one for my team, one for the other team). I ate all my dinner (except for what dropped on the floor). I even helped Amber take her first steps. So let’s forget about yesterday’s mess with the glitter glue, paint, and Dad’s toothbrush. Besides, Mom sure did like the Mother’s Day card I made with my own claws.
I’ve been thinking about my Christmas list. I want the Sea Serpent Blue Jurassic Turbo Scooter X9. I also want a Raging Raptor action figure.
Ernest B Spinosaurus
The illustrations are bold, colourful and lively, and don’t simply echo the text but rather show another side to the story, a kind of “what really happened” side to it. They’re fresh and fun and really help with the whole book’s festive, exciting, cheerful vibe. And what was really nice, especially for a Christmas picture book, was the fact that there was no in-your-face, saccharine moral at the end. Ernest got the Christmas present he wanted, and was really really happy. The point of the story isn’t about good deeds and impressing on kids any kind of pressure to be something they’re not; it’s about kids being kids, and enjoying their childhood, and striving and trying without weighty repercussions or negative consequences. You could read this as “Santasaurus” standing in for God, but not being religious I didn’t read it that way (but you could). Children reading this will be able to enjoy it for the entertaining story it is, while also seeing a bigger picture. It’s a story that makes an impression, but isn’t heavy-handed or lecturing or do-goody. Know what I mean? Kids don’t respond well to that anyway.
Children will connect well with Ernest, who is proud of himself for taking a bath without being told, and who does harmless pranks. They will enjoy reading about a year in Ernest’s life, and getting to know him. And if anything, it will teach kids that it’s okay to play, that you should try to be good and helpful and considerate, but if you mess up nothing bad’s going to happen. Your life won’t be – shouldn’t be, if you have decent parents – ruined. (Sadly, not every child has the freedom to be a child that Ernest does.) Being a child is about learning, in more ways than one, and I’ve never thought that placing adult responsibilities – with adult repercussions and punishments – on children is at all useful, or teaches them anything but to be scared and anxious or that they’re bad and that’s that. At first glance, Dear Santasaurus is pure silly fun, but at its heart it’s good, solid storytelling that, if nothing else, will secretly reassure kids that there’s nothing wrong with being a kid.
My thanks to the author for a copy of this book.
Stacy McAnulty is mum to three kids and two dogs. She loves to write letters, especially to Santa, and always tries to stay on the Nice List. Dear Santasaurus is her first picture book. She lives with her husband and children in Kernersville, North Carolina, and I’d like to welcome her to my blog: Welcome Stacy!
To celebrate the release of Stacy’s new book, Dear Santasaurus, she’s organised a blog tour which I’m very excited to be a part of. Each day of the tour includes a different cookie recipe on her blog; see below for the link.
By Guest Blogger Stacy McAnulty
This year my family is celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas with books. We have lots of books and surprisingly few partridges (but we do have 3 Bradford pear trees in the backyard). So I’ve decided to take my 12 favorite Christmas books and wrap them up. Each night, my family will open a story treasure and read. Maybe next year my hubby will wrap the twelve books. And maybe the year after that, my eldest daughter will be in charge of selecting and wrapping our books. I see a great new family tradition developing.
Here are the books I’ve selected for my inaugural year of The 12 Books of Christmas.
(Shannon’s note: click on the covers to visit their Goodreads’ pages)
On the first day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
Dear Santasaurus by Stacy McAnulty (me!), Illustrated by Jef Kaminisky
This is my debut picture book and I had to include it. I’m done with the shameless self-promotion. On with the other Christmas books.
On the second day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, Illustrated by Susan Jeffers
My daughter had to memorize this poem in 5th grade so when I saw this beautiful book I had to have it. Such a beautiful, powerful poem from a man who has been gone for 50 years.
On the third day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
Santa Duck by David Milgrim
This book is so silly, and I just think ducks are fun. But my favorite part is Cat’s Christmas list… a mouse, a canary, a trout, and maybe a couple of nice, plump hamsters.
On the fourth day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
You Are my Miracle by Mayann Cusimano Love, Illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa
I absolutely love their other book, You Are My I Love You, so this one gets to be on my Christmas list.
On the fifth day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson, Illustrated by Jane Chapman
A great story about friendship.
On the sixth day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
A classic sprinkled among the mix. Definitely must be read while wearing PJs.
On the seventh day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
The Fourteen Bears Summer and Winter by Evelyn Scott, Illustrated by Virginia Parsons
Only half of this book is a Christmas book, but that’s OK. This is the only picture book I remember LOVING as a child. (My brothers and sister loved it too. The spine was held together with tape.) I bought a re-released version in May 2005. Glad I did. This book is out-of-print again and is now going for $92 (USD) and up.
On the eighth day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
The Spirit of Christmas by Nancy Tillman
Nancy’s message in all her books is “You are loved.” It’s a message I want to share with my children over and over.
On the ninth day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
The Small One by Alex Walsh, Illustrated by Jesse Clay
Another out-of-print book but I ordered this one for a penny. I have to admit, I haven’t read it yet. (It’s in route from the online seller.) But I adore the video — it makes me cry — and I want the book. And when has a movie ever been better than the book?
On the tenth day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini, Illustrated by Henry Cole
Mustaches seem to be everywhere now. From T-shirts to wrapping paper to wall art. Maybe this was the character that started it all.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
Love, love, love! If I had to crown an all-time favorite Christmas book, I’d have to go with the Grinch. I especially adore his dog, Max.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, the book I chose to read…
The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore
We’ve turned this story/poem into a competition in my house. We try to see who can recite the most verses accurately. No one has made it to the end, but every year we’re getting better and better. We have several copies of this book in our house. The one I choose to add to our 12 Books of Christmas is from 1975. It’s illustrated by Tasha Tudor and smells like a musty library. Perfect!
Peanut Butter Kissed Cookies
(visit http://stacymcanulty.blogspot.com/ for the recipe)
Thank you, Stacy, for the wonderful list of Christmas-themed picture books – not to mention the recipes! This is a great way to build up anticipation for what is one of my favourite festive holidays.