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VINE VOICEon December 6, 2007
You might think it would be easy to translate the real story of Saint Nicholas of Myra into picture book form so that it can be shared with children. But the task is more complex than it first appears. If you research the origins of our Santa Claus, you either come up with voluminous information about travels, miracles, and patronage; or you land on a single statement that insists that no confirmed historical facts exist about him. It's tough to boil down the facts, such as they are, and figure out an engaging way to present them to young people.

Dandi Daley Mackall takes a stab at the assignment with THE LEGEND OF ST. NICHOLAS, which puts a contemporary twist on the historical account. The book begins with a boy named Nick who goes last-minute Christmas shopping with his father. Nick is more focused on what he'd like to get for himself, not on presents for his little brothers. But he overhears a department-store Santa retelling the story of Saint Nicholas. He learns a bit about a young man who saw suffering and had enough wealth of his own to help out his friends and deposit anonymous gifts at their homes. When he later saw how much his gifts were appreciated, Saint Nicholas decided to celebrate Christmas in that fashion from that point on. Hearing this tale had its effect on real-time Nick, and in no time he was busy figuring out what to get for his family members.

The plot is nicely done, even if we don't believe that a young person can be turned around so quickly these days. Guy Porfirio's illustrations are rich in color and expression (though the text mentions that Nick is ogling CDs, not the DVDs that he is seen holding in one scene). Children might be stunned at first to see Saint Nicholas depicted as a handsome young man, not much older than themselves. But of course that's the point! And I think it is well made here. Good job!

Mackall and Porfirio are not the first ones to tackle this subject, and they surely won't be the last. Other good picture book treatments include: Marianna Mayer's "The Real Santa Claus," which provides a detailed history of Nicholas' life; Demi's "The Legend of Saint Nicholas," which streamlines a similar history and features iconic illustrations; and "The Baker's Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale" by Aaron Shepard and Wendy Edelson, which brings to life a simple and colorful American folktale of gratitude, inspired by the saint. Each one is worthy of sharing with a child during the holiday season.
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In this delightful Christmas tale we meet Nick, a young boy who must do last minute Christmas shopping for his brothers' presents. Nick isn't thrilled about this. He'd much rather get gifts than give them, but that changes when Nick overhears a mall Santa retelling the legend of St. Nicholas.

We are taken into the world of a young St. Nicholas, in this tale, and shown how his tradition of gift-giving began. The children will see how Nicholas felt compassion for the less fortunate, and wanted to bring them some happiness. The idea of showing St.Nicholas as a child brings the story down to a child's level, and makes it easier for them to relate to and understand. Very good.

This is a truly heart-warming story for the child in your life that you desire to understand the true meaning of gift-giving
The illustrations are absolutely brilliant, colorful, and life like. The expressions on the faces definitely give light to the words being read. Excellent. All in all a wonderful book that I am pleased to recommend.
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on November 12, 2008
If you're trying to instill the spirit of giving in your child, and you'd like to teach them a little big about Christmas lore, "The Legend of St. Nicholas" by Dandi Daley Mackall is a great choice.

Prolific Christian children's book author Mackall offers up this tale not in her famous rhyme, but in straight prose. She begins by introducing us to an older boy named Nick, who is grumpily Christmas shopping with his father. Although he's supposed to be buying his brothers gifts, Nick finds himself mostly thinking about keeping enough of his gift money to buy himself a CD. Then Nick overhears the store Santa telling a story to some younger children.

The story is about a boy who lived long ago and was named Nicholas. He grew up with wealthy parents, but managed to still notice a lot of needy people in the world. When his parents died, Nicholas was unsure what to do with his life. He asked his friends what they'd do if they had a great deal of money. One boy told him he'd pay all the family bills, since his father was out of work. Another boy said he'd buy his mother a much needed coat. And a girl said she'd pay for her sisters' dowries, so they could marry.

That Christmas night, Nicholas heard the church bells and thought about the wise kings who brought gifts to baby Jesus. There's no better time to give gifts than on the celebration of Jesus' birth, he decided. He rushed out and threw coins through his friend's window, so his family's bills could be paid; he threw a beautiful coat through the window of another friend's house, so his mother could be properly clothed. He also attempted to throw dowry money through the window of his third friend's house, but the windows were locked. He looked heavenward, praying for God's guidance...and saw his friend's chimney...

Modern day Nick is stirred by this tale of the real Santa Claus, and with renewed Christmas joy, not only finds just the right gifts for his brothers, but uses up his remaining money buying gifts for poor children."Nick felt sure he'd never look at Christmas the same way. He wanted to remember the gifts of Saint Nicholas, the gifts of the wise kings, and most of all, God's gift of baby Jesus."

What I Like: I like the interweaving of a modern tale of a child who learns the real meaning of Christmas and the joy of giving alongside one of the historical legends of St. Nicholas, the inspiration for the make-believe Santa Claus. Guy Porfirio's illustrations are also beautiful: realistic and colorful without being gaudy.

What I Dislike: Nothing.

Overall Rating: Excellent.

Kristina Seleshanko, Managing Editor, Christian Children's Book Review
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VINE VOICEon November 30, 2007
In The Legend of St. Nicholas, a beautifully-illustrated picture book for kids in the four-to-eight range, young Nick comes to realize that Christmas is about more than amassing material possessions. On a last-minute shopping excursion with his father, Nick is drawn in by a store Santa's recounting of the Saint Nicholas legend. The other Nick's decision to dedicate his life to giving, rather than receiving, serves as a strong inspiration for our modern-day Nick, showing him the Christian meaning behind a religious holiday that many now experience only in a commercial, secular sense. It also uses Saint Nick's story-within-the-story to draw a clever connection between Santa Clause and Christ's birthday. My five-year-old loved this book, insisting that I give it five stars. I agree that this would make a great addition to your family's holiday book collection.

-Kevin Joseph (as reviewed for TCM Reviews)
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on December 12, 2013
We liked it but it has too many contradictions to the other book (see my review on the Legend of the Christmas Stocking). They are both supposed to be about St. Nick, but they contradict each other, and my two older kids (age 7 and 6) were able to spot the discrepancies immediately.
However, it is a lovely quality book, with really nice illustrations, and all of our kids liked it.
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on October 1, 2014
In this book, a little boy named Nick, who is obviously a typical kid who wants things for himself more than he wants to give to other, overhears Santa telling the story of St. Nick (which is his real name). We learn that St. Nick is a man who was left a lot of money when his parents died, and decided to use that money to buy others’ gifts to make their material wishes come true.

I tend to be uncomfortable with the connection between Christmas and giving presents. While I appreciate the encouragement for kids to move from the “getting” to the “giving” attitude that this book highlights (and the bit of historical fiction it shares) I’m not a huge fan of reading books like this to the kids as a “feel good” story. Instead, I could see reading it to start a conversation about how the idea of Santa got started, or even to discuss the importance of giving to others around the world who are in true need. But let’s not pretend that St. Nick and present day Santa are anything alike :). However, if you are into the Santa thing and want to go that route, you’ll probably like this book. It’s well written and a good story about focusing on giving instead of receiving.

Thanks to Booklook Bloggers for these complementary copies in exchange for my honest opinions!
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on December 16, 2015
What a cute book that chronicles the story of St. Nicholas! This is great to describe why we find joy in giving to others to our children. My son is 3.5 and this book is a little long/complex in one sitting, so I'd recommend it for a little bit older than him. I think next year this will speak to him more.

The graphics are cute, the book is well made, and I love the story! Definitely recommend!
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on December 9, 2013
The spin given on this tale of one of the big names of Christmas (St. Nicholas) is excellent. A reminder of generosity, and a look back to the Greatest Gift, makes this a good gift for families who aren't doing the Santa thing to help children understand the right attitudes behind gift giving.
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on March 8, 2016
I was looking for a story to help my kids understand the true meaning behind Christmas. This book attempts to do that, but didn't really hold my kids' interest. The story was somewhat long and boring for younger children (mine are 6 and 3), but it may be effective for older kids. It did have some nice illustrations.
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on December 8, 2015
I grew up with the tradition of St. Nicholas and I was looking for a book to try and help explain it to my children (ages 1 and 3). This is the only book I have found that accurately tells the story of St. Nicholas and it is still cute and interesting. I definitely recommend this book!!
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