“A Boy Called Christmas” by Matt Haig is a bit of a complicated book for me. I’ve had a difficult time pinning down how I truly feel about it. Perhaps by the time I get to the end of this review, I’ll have figured it out. I promise I will! But first, a summary. Then, I’ll get into the reasons as to why I feel as I do.
“A Boy Called Christmas” is the origin story of Santa Claus. The reader gets to see the world through eleven-year-old Nikolas’s eyes, and it’s not a kind world. He journeys to the far North in search of elves and his missing father, and throughout his journey, experiences immense hardship. Things get a little easier after rescuing a missing elf boy and being accepted in Elfhelm, (the elven village). While in Elfhelm, he finds out who he is meant to be and how he can use his gifts - by becoming the jolly red-clothed man we all know and love - Father Christmas.
Recommended Age Group?
The publisher’s recommended age group is 8-12. I would definitely increase the age range from 10-13.
There are dark themes in this novel. Death and hardship are consistent
throughout, and the author does very little to shelter the young readers from the details and emotions surrounding these deaths. At one point in the story, a murderous pixie is introduced, and she wants nothing more than to see heads explode. In fact, she’s in prison for exploding an elf’s head. While in this very prison, a troll’s head explodes and (in my opinion) the reader is given a little too much detail. Without spoiling too much about the novel, hardship, death, and sadness seem to permeate Nikolas’s sad life.
The narrator helps the reader to get through all these dark themes. The interjecting narrator keeps things light and adds humour to relieve the tension. The writing in this book is unique and fun, and made me smile many times. Of all the books I’ve ever read, the beginning of “A Boy Called Christmas” is my favourite. I also love the newspaper clippings that have been added, and illustrations by Chris Mould.
Besides the permeating dark themes, some of the language used in the book might have teachers/parents editing as they read (if reading out loud). The words stupid and hate are used, as well as drunk and drunkenness.
Of course, there are happy themes in this novel as well. Hope, believing in the impossible, friendship, and perseverance make up large parts of this story.
This book is classroom-approved, but best suited for grades 5-8 (grade 5 being questionable).
Your students will love learning how all of the Santa legends came to be (such as why he laughs with a “ho ho ho”, and why he wears red). The character of Nikolas is a fantastic example for kids to look up to, as he’s kind, preserving, and always wanting to do the right thing.
All in all (and I’ve now made up my mind as to how I feel about this novel), “A Boy Called Christmas” is an intriguing story, well worth reading. I was surprised by the depth of the themes and lessons that readers can take along with them. This is a novel that you’ll be able to read again and again and always take something new from it.
Check out our Novel Study for Matt Haig's