Holly Hardin,
Aurora of the Northern Lights
(Outskirts Press, 2009)

Although the Christian calendar dictates that Christmas falls upon Dec. 25, it seems the season for celebrating the putative nativity of Christ starts earlier every year. At one time, Thanksgiving Day, with its parades, football games on television, multitudes of friends and family and food was the "kickoff" of the Christmas season. But, as time has gone by, the season starts in August, and the only real holiday that Christians and non-Christians can share as a group is Thanksgiving, even though that holiday is becoming but a blip on the radar.

There are a number of fine holiday-themed books available. Every year new ones come out for a variety of holidays with fine illustrations and storylines. Many people enjoy buying a special book for the children in their lives. These books can be treasured and re-read every year as part of the ritual for that particular holiday. These same books deal with legends or stories connected to a particular holiday character, i.e., Santa or others.

Thus, Aurora of the Northern Lights attracted me as a unique take on a theme that has long fascinated me: the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. I have never seen the Northern Lights live, and so I was charmed by the concept of a story about a girl who was connected to the legend and made the reality more thrilling.

This book, written by Holly Hardin and illustrated by Donald Vanderbeek, is written in poetic form, with awkward phraseology and inconsistent illustrations. The story is interesting in that it is about a little girl who is the product of a mixed marriage between Mistletoe, who "dwelled among the ice and snow," and William, a lad from the south who has wandered north while lost. The two fall in love, and marry on the winter solstice. Sadly, William becomes ill in the northern climate, so the two migrate south to his home in the hope he will become well.

Eventually, Mistletoe and William have a child, Aurora. Mistletoe, William and Aurora become ill with a severe fever. Both Mistletoe and William die, and Aurora is left alone, friendless and an outcast from the only home she knows. Forced to flee, Aurora runs into a witch who gives her a magic crystal charm and instructions to go to the woods where she will be safe. As a child of mixed heritage, Aurora is not welcome by the forest folk, either. The fey queen tells her she must leave as well but gives her a warm cloak and a staff of oak. Again, Aurora leaves, traveling north. She is welcome nowhere, but has no place else to go.

Eventually, Aurora reaches the North Pole, meets a familiar character, is welcomed by a family member and all the people who live there.

It is an interesting concept, and it could become a classic book. A theme such as this is deep stuff for children, even though many are able to comprehend what it is like to be "different." As noted, my complaint is that the words are stilted and the illustrations inconsistent. With better editing and crisper, clearer illustrations, this book has potential. With holidays coming earlier each year, this book could stand revisions and be available for Christmas 2011, which is just around the corner.

book review by
Ann Flynt

29 January 2011

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