On the very first page of “Santa’s Husband” is a picture of Santa -- he is black, wearing glasses and in a Santa outfit. “This is Santa,” it reads.
On the opposite page, a picture of a white guy who looks a lot more like the guy in a Coke ad. “This is Santa’s husband,” it reads.
So, already, it’s a not a stereotypical take on the Jolly Old Elf, but one of the canniest I’ve seen in years.
“Santa’s Husband” was written by comedy scribe Daniel Kibblesmith, who writes for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” has written books and comics and made a ton of money as the former in-house comedian for GroupOn (Yeah, that was a thing.) and illustrated by comics artist A.P. Quach.
While the original pitch was reported as something akin to a parody children’s book a la “Go the F*** To Sleep,” the result is an actual children’s book -- sweet and funny and thoughtful.
You see, Santa’s husband helps Santa around the North Pole with various present-related issues such a labor negotiations with the elves and heading off to various malls so kids can let him know what they want for Christmas, information which is then relayed to Santa (Santa’s husband is often mistaken for Santa).
“Santa’s Husband” does acknowledge the idea that there are lots of folks, say, on TV who are not wild about the idea of Santa not being exactly like they demand that he be (and they yell about it a lot). Santa and Santa’s husband have the concerned looks on their faces that you probably have every single solitary time you turn on the news or NPR or Facebook or Twitter, etc.
But they love each other very much and, frankly, as the book notes, Santa means a lot of things to lots of different people. There is room for all sorts of Santas.
It’s terrific -- joyful and funny and smart and kind.
Here are two more wonderful winter holiday kids’ books:
“Father Christmas” by Raymond Briggs. Briggs is a national treasure in his native Britain, where his books have been turned into Christmas specials and musicals. His best know work is “The Snowman,” which is a Christmas tradition in the UK so ubiquitous it is simply part of the national DNA now, a bit like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” over here, but with less jazz.
But “Father Christmas” is funnier, concerning as it does a grouchy Santa who really doesn’t like the cold all that much, hates getting ties for Christmas and just generally kind of a scowly guy. Briggs art manages to be cozy and matter of fact at the same time -- no wonder he’s a British hero. Required reading.
“The Power of Light: Eight Stories for Hanukkah” by Isaac Bashevis Singer and Irene Lieblich. Just what it says on the tin -- eight lovely stories for Hanukkah (which starts this year the night of Dec. 12). Lieblich, a Holocaust survior, poet and late-life illustrator, was hand picked by Singer for this and another book for children and her warm paintings are perfect for Singer’s fables. Another must-read for Jews and non-Jews alike.