There is still a thriving market for children’s Christmas books. It doesn’t matter that kids
have become sophisticated and spoiled, and are more interested in playing computer games than reading. The children aren’t
the ones who actually spend the money.
That’s why a book like Joseph J Caro’s Santa’s Magic Train, old-fashioned as it
may appear, will not lack buyers. The author would probably prefer the word "traditional" to "old-fashioned", because this
is one of those colourful illustrated works that we have been used to seeing at Christmas for decades. Indeed, the Victorians
began the tradition, when Prince Albert introduced German customs such as Christmas cards and trees to the UK.
Although the book is aimed at children aged from three to nine, I can’t help thinking that a nine-year-old
would find it rather childish. The story around which the illustrations and colouring pages are based is that of Lionel, one
of Santa’s elves and something of a "scallywag". (I wondered, do 21st century children know what a scallywag
is? I suppose they do, if they have listened to enough Enid Blyton stories.)
In reality, Lionel is not so much a scally as an incompetent, or cack-handed as we would say in this country.
When Santa asks for a hundred trains a foot in length, Lionel builds – you’ve guessed it – a single hundred-foot-long
train. He even manages to lose all the reindeer. On the other hand, he does seem to be Santa’s only helper, and
that suggests he is somewhat overworked.
Santa worries that, for the first time ever, he will fail to deliver the presents this Christmas. He begins
to think it is time to consider retirement. Lionel saves the day, naturally. Well, you knew that hundred-foot-long train was
going to come in handy sooner or later, didn’t you?
It’s a cute little story, guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of smaller children, and about the
right length to send them to sleep. The illustrations, by Lin Shih, are in a conventional style and the colours are bright
but not garish. As a present, this book is sure to be a hit with children and their parents alike, and grandparents will find
it reassuring to find that such things are still being produced. At $9.95, it is very reasonably priced, and there is also
a 32-page colouring book on the same theme that can be ordered separately. Unlike the reading book, this is directed at children
from three to eleven. Children take a long time to grow out of colouring.