I have always been a bit skeptical of Santa books. I guess sometimes I figure it is easier to stay completely away from Santa as much as possible, as I feel that Santa and Christian things always get a bit murky. Take Church-run carols for instance, featuring a ‘Santa’ to get the crowds- does it make it confusing as to how our view of God is different from Santa? Or is it simply a helpful drawcard? As a Christian, I know I’m confused, so I imagine others may be too?  What is clear in my mind though, is that the fictional story of Santa is very different from the truth of Jesus. Currently, my children are 5, 3 and 18months, so Santa has been fairly easily explained (*spoiler alert) as a man dressed up at Christmas time that people find fun. We also read Matthias Media’s “Just Nicholas” (Kratzsch & Janes, 2015) to our kids last about the history of Saint Nicholas, which provided an interesting historical account but unfortunately didn’t capture my imagination or enthusiasm.

So, when I heard of Simon Camilleri’s self-published “When Santa Learned the Gospel” that was illustrated by Matt Boutros (2017, Simon Says Publishing) my alarm-bells were ringing. It was going to be a bit of a hard sell. Yet, as I heard more people mentioning it, I thought it may be just be worth taking a look at. From the moment the book arrived in the mail, I was impressed. The cover is hardcover, the inside flap complete with “a gift for… from…” encouraging it to be used as a gift. The quality of publishing is also really well done- from a tactile point of view, the book feels good to touch.

Camilleri has captured the hearts and minds of children and parents through the use of rhyme (which I love in children’s books!). Essentially, an extended poem, “When Santa Learned the Gospel” follows the story of an elf who hears about Jesus when a child asks for a Bible book for Christmas. As the story goes on, the elf discovers the gospel and feels she needs to share it with Santa. As Santa responds, Camilleri cleverly weaves in a comparison between the gospel and the ‘naughty but nice’ Santa fable. And that is where I get really excited about this book.

Camilleri has woven the gospel in to his story, comparing the difference between Jesus and the secular karmic myth of Santa. As we know, instead of us getting what we deserve, the gospel tells us God extends grace, in the gift of his Son to earth. Instead of us being nice to get into heaven, we realise we all are found wanting, helpless in our sin. But God. Through highlighting this wonderful difference, Camilleri enables this book to be used as an evangelistic tool for children and adults. As you gift someone with this, they will get a solid account of the Gospel, and how God’s gift means even Santa needs to recognise the need for a personal Saviour from his very real sin. The book also features a “Tricky Words Glossary” ensuring all people can understand the words used and points people to references in the Bible where they can read more- fantastic!

Matt Boutros is a professional digital artist and graphic designer from Melbourne, Australia. While this is his first time illustrating books, his illustrations do not disappoint. Quirky and fun, his illustrations bring the characters of Santa and the Elf alive. The illustrations are in a similar digital style of many picture books today, making readers comfortable and able to concentrate wonderfully on the story. The proportion of text to image is spot on for children from 3 years plus. The positioning of text is fun, except if I’m being really pedantic for the page where the words ‘upside down’ is turned literally upside down, which does stall the reading and rhythm of the poetry for a moment as the reader deciphers what is being said. But that is a bump, and once again you are woven into a delicious mix of weighty words told simply.

I would encourage this to be a book you look at this Christmas. At $20 for a single book purchase, it is more pricey than other children’s books, however the quality of print and self-publication have lead to this. You can also buy them in bulk (3 and 5 packs) at SantaGospel, with specials that come out, which makes it more affordable. It is also stocked by The Wandering Bookseller, where you can purchase it alongside your other Christmas book needs. Koorong also stocks this title.

I’m excited about featuring Simon Camilleri in a podcast soon, so stay tuned to hear more about him, his personal pursuit of God and his process in releasing “When Santa Learned the Gospel”. Oh, and as an aside, 10ofThose.com have just picked up this one to publish in the future, which will be great for getting this title into hands in the UK and US.

Now, get organised… buy a copy, or ten to gift to others this Christmas; just make sure you keep one for yourself!

Image: Courtesy Simon Says Publishing.

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