Sandra Jones Cropsey,
Tinker's Christmas,
illustrated by Barbara K. Mudd
(Wright, 2002)

Many people write books, for just as many reasons. Some pump out a story a season, follow a formula and make, if not an illustrious name for themselves, at least a recognizable one. Others, though, obviously put a bit more thought, a bit more heart into their story, and it's the product of an inner force, a need-driven tale.

Such is the case with Sandra Jones Cropsey's Tinker's Christmas, a lovingly related fantasy of an elf with a mission: Save Christmas, and make it even better.

So I wish I could say that it was good. Oh, I want to, but it just isn't so.

From the cliched Santa to the air-headed Pixie, Tinker's crowd lacks dimension. The storyline has been done, redone, overdone, since well before this go at it, and it was never super-compelling, even the first time round.

Once again, the reindeer have fallen ill and cannot make the Christmas Eve run, leaving all the world's children toyless this year. But not if Tinker can help it (and of course he can, this plot never fails). In this case he remodels the Christmas Village Engine #25, "Ah-choo," to serve as a surrogate sleigh, with the help of Santa, Father Chris (the village chaplain) and the ever-coquettish Pixie.

Can Tinker really do it? Can he save the day? Well, how does this story usually end? Right.

I think the story could have been boosted by the right accompaniment of art, but Barbara K. Mudd's illustrations fall a bit short and are a little ... weird. While somewhat reminisent of Depression-era Coca-Cola advertising, there is a strangely angry expressioning to the characters' faces and body language.

As my kids pointed out, although the story's Santa is a typical kindly old gent, the illustrations make him appear ever-angry, and sort of scary. Tinker's gaping mouth becomes not just noticeable, but impossible not to wonder about, especially given the intelligence written into his personality.

All this said, the kids are really enjoying it, once again surprising me with a total opposite of my feelings. They claim to like "everything about it" -- of course, with the exception of the angry-Santa pictures.

Go figure. I don't think I would have recommended the book before I got their input, and now I'm glad I asked. For as much as they enjoy it, I guess test-audiences work!

Cropsey was inspired to write the story because there "were not a lot of Christmas stories involving a train." I can't help but think that this was an unfortunate year to publish with that philosophy, as movie-goers pack the house to view The Polar Express. Still, perhaps that success will support other train stories, and Cropsey will find a willing market for her heart-spun story.

- Rambles
written by Katie Knapp
published 24 December 2004

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