Review: SECRETS OF A CHRISTMAS BOX by Steven Hornby

As Christmas Eve at the Ferguson household draws near and the family retires for the night, the Christmas tree comes alive with activity from the Tree-Dwellers, the ornaments that inhabit the tree every year before they are put away in their boxes until the next holiday. It is known and accepted among the Dwellers that sometimes an ornament will not reappear. When that happens, the other Dwellers are sad, but continue on with their lives on the tree.

This year it is Larry’s brother who does not reappear. Larry, a snowman, and his girlfriend, Debbie, an elf, decide to look beyond the tree for Terrance, Larry’s missing brother. They, along with a new Tree-Dweller called Splint and Tinsel, Larry’s pet, do the unthinkable: they leave the safety of the tree and sally forth into the far reaches of the house to look for the Christmas boxes that the ornaments sleep in the rest of the year hoping that Terrance just got overlooked as the Ferguson family was decorating the tree. As they navigate towards their destination, they encounter all sorts of household danger as well as other more sinister threats.

I have to say I’m a sucker for holiday stories. It doesn’t matter what the plot is, nor how far-fetched the story, nor how corny. I will tear up at the most eye-rolling-ly plots ever written. I just love them. So I was very pleased to receive this book to review and at just the right time of the year too. That being said I have some good things and one or two minor concerns.

First, this is a great holiday story for parents to read to their children. Whimsical hand-drawn illustrations are interspersed throughout the book and accompany the goings-on in the story. It is simply written but there are words here and there whose meanings would challenge younger readers. The story focuses mainly on the ornaments and only switches back to the family as is necessary for the plot. I liked the sections with the ornaments more, possibly because the level of reading seemed slightly more mature than the family’s. From page 5:

“Oops…!” freaked Dad, suddenly remembering something. He looked down under his shoes at the floor. “Ooh, that was lucky. Better get them off before the kids…!” He whipped off his shoes and threw them over to the door, a moment before the children clamored down the stairs. “Goodness me!” said Dad, smiling at Mom. “Now that was close!”

This is ‘Dad’s’ reaction when he realizes that he’s walked in to the house with his wet, snowy shoes on and didn’t want his children to see what a bad role model he would be. I think freaked used here is a bit out of place but perhaps its meaning is subjective.

There are a couple of chapters near the end of the book that some children might find a bit scary, but I think that depends on what kind of books they’re used to reading. Nine-year olds who read the Goosebumps (and other similar) series wouldn’t have a problem with this one.

I didn’t realize until fairly well into the story that there are 24 chapters which ideally, are meant to be read one per night, beginning December 1st. On one of the first pages, (which I noticed only after I went to the beginning when referring to the chapter titles) is a little poem:

From the start of December,
to Christmas Eve night
one chapter an evening,
wrapped up with delight.
I checked the Secrets of a Christmas box website and it says the book is meant for children ages 8 to 12. I’m not sure a lot of 12 year olds would want to be read to but for little ones I can see how reading one chapter a night would be a lovely tradition to start; like an advent calendar, just one of those things children go by to count down the days until THE DAY.


bermudaonion on November 19, 2009 at 3:29 PM said...

Special books like this always make the holidays special. Great review!

Staci on November 19, 2009 at 3:39 PM said...

this does sound like a great book to make a yearly Christmas read!!

Linda Ellen on November 21, 2009 at 1:25 AM said...

I don't read many holiday books, but this one sounds great. I thought I'd look it up on chapters.indigo, but it's only available as a used+rare. Hmm ... I wasn't expecting that.


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