You have to feel that Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin would be mightily impressed with Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins, a book which goes all out to celebrate sisters doing it for themselves.
Well, in this case, Mrs. Claus, who, when she discovers Santa still in bed right when he should be setting out on his epic present distributing run across the globe – he rather delightfully describes himself as “I’m stuffy. I’m sneezy. I’m slow as a yeti / My Big ho-ho-ho isn’t holiday ready” – decides that she will make sure Christmas happens, unwilling to heed Santa’s rather dispirited assessment that “We must cancel Christmas. Oh, what a disgrace!”
Leaving aside the rather lamentable fact that Santa (a) gives up altogether too easily and (b) doesn’t even stop to consider that Mrs. Claus might have it in her to do his job, Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins (literally and figuratively!) by writer Sue Fliess and illustrator Mark Chambers isn’t a fabulous rallying to just get the done even when all hope seems lost.
Mrs. Claus, while declaring “I have a solution … I’ll go in your place!”, isn’t a little nervous about such a massive undertaking but in no time flat, she has staffed up, got her GPS humming, checked the weather and gathered supplies all the elves are making sure every last gift is present and accounted for.
Not bad for a last-minute change of plans.
Much of the sheer delight of Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins, at least in a narrative sense, comes the sheer delicious poetry and verve of Fliess’s writing.
It is jaunty and vivacious in a way that a story about saving the day demands but also full to the brim with an inspiring sense of can-do spirit moderated by the fact that Mrs. Claus is understandably more than a little nervous about taking on such a gargantuan task.
This beautiful book, whose illustrations are lushly, wondrously colourful and which evoke the kind of joyous warm-and-fuzzy world-with-a-world vibe you want from a festive book like this, is a vibrant pleasure from panicked start to triumphant finish.
It stares disaster in the face, and after gathering together all of the expected elements of a Santa tale from elves to the North Pole, from presents to eight magical reindeer and beyond, proceeds to tell a wholly original story that takes an old idea of saving Christmas from certain peril and gives it a modern sheen while keeping the traditional parts of the age-old story intact.
It’s a joyful and happy mix that delights with poetic loveliness – describing Mrs. Claus’s race around the world, Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins says “They skidded through Sweden and bounced around Spain / then galloped to Texas and zoomed up to Maine” all while evading an errant duck – and artwork that is co cosy and colourfully fun that you want to dive right into the pages and soak up all the Christmasness on display.
Thankfully Christmas is still there to be enjoyed thanks to Mrs. Claus who stares down disaster and her own sense of impostor syndrome and heads, leaking magic from the sleigh and everything, to make sure Christmas is saved while Santa recovers from a most inconvenient and ill-timed sickness. (The final page is beyond wonderful as Santa comes out to find … well, let’s just say the 26th will have to be a very quiet day indeed, for everyone.)