The Naughty List, by Thomas Conway

If you have a child between the ages of 8 and 12, particularly, but not exclusively, boys, and you’re looking for an activity that will bring you closer together and fight off the video games, you should buy this book and read it to your child/children. Start 45 days before Christmas, and read one chapter per night until you finish the book on Christmas eve. Do it every year until your kids are too old to enjoy the magic of Christmas, if that ever happens.  There are a lot of Christmas stories that you can read in one night.  This is a story to be a project – one that both parents and children will enjoy.

The story in some ways reminds me of the Peter and the Star Catchers books by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, although not quite as readable as stand-alone stories for adults. The premise is that Santa Clause (who is very real) has been kidnapped by a company that has released a global video game fantasy world. The Company wants all the children to play their game and not be distracted by the spirit of Christmas. The heroes are Hermey, who worked for Santa until age 20 at the North Pole, and his grandson, Tiberius, who is more in to the video game, but who becomes one of Santa’s Soldiers, helping to lead a team of children who will try to rescue Santa and save Christmas. (The dates in the book progress from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, where Santa was a no-show, and counts down to see whether Santa will be rescued before December 25th.) The members of the team are drawn from Santa’s “Naughty List” based on their bad behavior. Yet, each of the members of the team has special skills and abilities that, if they work together – and with a little cosmic dust, magic snowmen, and an army of fighting toy soldiers – they can save the day.

The set-up for the story takes some time, and the middle section involves all the training and preparation of the “Naughty Team” for their assault on the video game’s island fortress. In some places, the story drags a bit during all this, but the pay off in the final section makes you forget any nights of reading that seemed less than thrilling. Every kid will be able to find a character here with whom to identify. The author has constructed a group that are not exactly misfits, but who would never have dreamed of working together for such a noble cause.

There are also wonderful nuggets of stories here that can become family traditions.  If you write a letter to Santa Clause and burn it in a fire, the smoke will find its way to the North Pole, where Santa’s elves will receive and interpret it.  Did you know that?  Did you know that building a snowman can be critical to fighting the forces of evil? Get out there and build a good one – and maybe there will be a little cosmic dust inside.

In the final battle to save Santa (and Christmas), toy soldiers and animate snowmen fight along with the children of the Naughty List in an A-Team style raid on the secret hide-out of the evil video game company to free the kidnapped Santa. Will they succeed? Will they save the day and remind the world of the true meaning and spirit of Christmas? You and the children you are reading the story to will have to find out together – and that’s the point.

The star-rating here is entirely based on, as I said, reading this book to your children.  OK, the children can read it to themselves if they want to, but that will spoil much of the fun and the point.  Adults should not expect to read this to themselves. It’s not intended for that, and if you do it you may be disappointed. Don’t spend too much time analyzing the plot or finding holes in the logic of the world that Mr. Conway has created. It’s a fantasy. It’s an allegory. It’s not supposed to be a scientifically-based description of a real-life military operation run by children, snowmen, and elves. Just suspend reality, get a cup of cocoa, snuggle your little ones, and enjoy.

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