Dasher and the Sleigh-Train
by E. Dorinda Shelley
Authors Press

"'Okay,' Santa said. 'Now, look out the window!' The elves were amazed to see the packed sleigh sitting atop the train locomotive."

With Christmas approaching and the deadline for Santa’s trip on the horizon, an unthinkable obstacle presents itself. Backlogged and overloaded with requests from children for presents, Santa learns from Dasher that the reindeer feels sick. This sends Santa into a larger panic, as Dasher’s strength is a crucial element to pulling the sleigh, especially one so jam-packed with gifts. While Dasher gets checked out by the head nurse at Santa’s Workshop, Santa draws inspiration from a toy train that he notices and gets to work on a backup plan for the big day. The helper elves immediately shoot the idea down as preposterous, but Santa holds steady, suggesting they have a little more faith in his plan before preparing some magic powder to help him handle the Christmas emergency.

The powder relocates Santa’s sleigh on top of the train and makes the train large enough to be used for his annual global flight when combined with the sleigh’s magic. The reindeer start to feel left out and useless given Santa’s new magic train, but Santa quickly defuses the tension by offering the reindeer, save for an ill Dasher, a new job for the evening. The elves load up the train full of gifts, and the reindeer help Santa steer while he prepares the right present for delivery at each location, making the task a much more fun and inclusive experience for everybody as they enjoy the sleigh-train’s flight. Though Dasher wishes he could come along and help, he’s very thankful for the night off so he can recover from his bout with reindeer pox.

Children have an affection for the Christmas spirit and mythos that is infectious, and so it stands to reason that a story like this that sprinkles more imagination and a fun twist into the popular legends only fosters that excitement. From the use of magic and science combined, readers will be wide-eyed and absorbed in Santa’s clever thinking, whether they prefer the elegant imagery of reindeer or the fascinating aesthetic of a flying train full of presents. Each element of the story is presented using a cartoonish style of illustration that features soft pastel colors and bold, defined linework. The length of the story and the ratio of words to illustration make it a strong read-along book and even something straightforward that young readers can practice with as they develop.

Forgoing a long bout of worldbuilding or an element of conflict greater than general panic and the probability of falling ill at the worst possible time, the tone of this story is wisely kept light and focuses more on the whimsy of Santa’s impromptu flight rather than the hows and whys of it. Though more inquisitive or imaginative readers might have these questions, they should also be more than happy to take that ball and run with it, adding to the details of the story in a personal, active way. The themes of this book focus on determination and cooperation, creating a workable solution where there doesn’t appear to be one, and not losing sight of one’s responsibilities, but the book can just as easily be enjoyed simply for what it is: a story about Santa Claus with a cool flying train. The holiday spirit is about that brand of mindfulness and the simple pleasures intersecting, and this book embodies those lines of thinking to a tee.

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