Santa’s reindeer have required a bailout many times in children’s literature, most famously in Robert May’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But various other kinds of animals have had their 15 minutes of Christmas fame as well, and Louis J. Marino adds to the list with his enchanting children’s picture book Santa’s Big White Chicken.
The rhyming story begins on Christmas Eve. With his reindeer sick, Santa is nervous and looking for other travel options: “He was a-mumblin’ and a-grumblin’ and a-shoutin’ and a-kickin’,/When he stumbled over a little white chicken.”
The chicken offers to help, but Santa tells him he’s too small to carry so many presents. Revealing that the secret of the reindeer’s magical travel lies in their jingle bells, the chicken puts on Prancer’s bells and grows to ten times his previous size. Presents are delivered on schedule, and Santa has a new (large) friend to thank for it.
Marino’s writing stumbles occasionally; at times the syllables in paired stanzas are uneven (“And the chicken said, ‘Santa I have your answer/I just saw your old friend Prancer”) and the halting rhythm may trip up those reading aloud. But the story is fun and moves at a nice pace. Still, the true star here is illustrator Louis W. Lonsway, whose art has a distinctive style that rivals any children’s illustrator. His pages are well-composed, and show texture, variety, and good use of color while perfectly complementing the text.
The story itself is simple, and there’s not much more to it than a straightforward variation on the Rudolph tale. But Santa’s Big White Chicken is proof that even a story that seems somewhat familiar can shine if it’s delivered with style.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.