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Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006
ON THE BOOK TRAIL
'When Santa Fell to Earth,' 'Brooklyn Rose'
'When Santa Fell To Earth,' Cornelia Funke, Chicken House; 2006; 173 pp.
Timeless. That's the word for fiction of this sort. How else can a story originally published in German in 1994 Eand now translated into English for the first time Emake for such great reading? Cynics might say that it's got to do with that Santa character Estories about him never go wrong, do they? But that's just it: Everyone knows about the fat guy in red who visits at Christmas. How can a tired old myth be revived so that it still sparkles like freshly fallen snow on Christmas morning?
For starters, did anyone say "fat guy in red?" Funke's Santa is young, thin and laughs, well, a little more like the rest of us. And he doesn't stand around outside glitzy department stores urging you to buy more and spend more. In fact, he's the last real Santa, the only one who still knows that there's more to Christmas spirit than handing your credit card to the cashier. When his airborne sleigh gets driven to Earth by a storm and his reindeer bolts off, Santa finds himself in a narrow street called Misty Close Ewith two panic-stricken angels, a bunch of angry elves and the wintry cold for company.
And while Niklas Goodfellow Efor that's what our unlikely Santa is called Eis waiting for his reindeer to return, he chances to make friends with two rather unhappy children, Ben and Charlotte. Ben's relationship with his parents is going seriously downhill; and Charlotte has been having some terrible dreams, though it is never quite clear why.
Their fortunes take a decisive turn for the better once they've been invited into Santa's caravan. They get treated to hot chocolate brewed by angels; they watch the elves making the world's most beautiful toys; and they resolve to find Santa's reindeer and bring it back. Meanwhile, there is always the specter of Gruesome Gerold Goblynch, the Stealer of Christmas, who wants nothing more than to turn Niklas into a bar of chocolate. Can Niklas Goodfellow escape the clutches of Gruesome Goblynch and his army of Nutcrackers and still make everyone believe in Christmas once again?
In this magical Christmas tale, he does, with a little help from Ben and Charlotte, of course. Funke's 21st-century take on Santa debunks all the old notions of a plump Father Christmas squeezing his way down chimneys, bag bursting with toys in tow.
But the best things about the much-loved fable Ethe flying reindeer, the elfin toy shop, and most of all, the generosity of spirit that Christmas stands for Eare left intact.
It took 12 long years for the English-speaking world to discover Funke's heartfelt story. Some things are well worth waiting for.
Note: For children 10 years and older. If you want to read more of Funke's work, check out "The Thief Lord" (see column dated Oct. 25, 2002).
"Brooklyn Rose," Ann Rinaldi, Harcourt; 2006; 219 pp.
Author Ann Rinaldi's 15-year-old heroine, Rose Frampton, has never dated a boy; loves embroidery; and considers $5 to be a small fortune. She's also swooning over a man twice her age who wants to marry her. If Rose Frampton were a girl in our own times, she'd be as out of fashion as corsets and hoop skirts -- and begging to be grounded, if you ask me. But Rinaldi's "Brooklyn Rose," set in America in the early 1900s, is a sympathetic account of a girl who by now would be old enough to be your great-grandmother . . .
Rose can't imagine a life without her family, far from the South Carolina island plantation where she grew up -- let alone marrying Rene Dumarest, a rich businessman from Brooklyn, New York, and moving all the way up North. But her father's finances are tight, and for Rose and her older sister, Heppie, getting married rich seems to be the only way to reduce their father's worries about settling his daughters.
As Mrs. Dumarest, Rose learns how to hire help, run an efficient household and make decisions. Confronted by the poverty of the big city, she takes it upon herself to raise money for charity, standing up to grudging neighbors who feel she is overstepping her brief. And when Rose finds out she is pregnant -- impending motherhood is one more thing she must get used to.
Rose's trials might seem trifling to a modern reader, but they're not. In intimate diary form, author Rinaldi tells a compelling coming-of-age story of a woman who finds her own identity within the narrow confines of her times.
Note: For teenagers 14 years and older.