'The Paper Bag Christmas' – children learn the true spirit of the holidays

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 28, 2008

“The Paper Bag Christmas,” by Kevin Alan Milne. Center Street. 2008. 160 pp. $14.99.By Mary Rice Patterson
For the Salisbury Post
Molar Alan and his brother Aaron are filling out their Christmas list in anticipation of going to the mall to see Santa.
When they arrive, Santa says “they will receive everything they never wanted!” They know then he isn’t your garden-variety Santa and that there were more surprises in store for them.
Dr. Christopher Ringle, a pediatric oncologist, has arranged with their father for them to serve as Santa’s elves in the children’s ward for the holidays. Aaron soon gets to know Madhu, an Indian boy, who is on the organ transplant list.Molar’s task is harder, as he tries to help a lonely girl, Katrina, who, because of scars from numerous surgeries, always wears a bag over her face.
They work very hard to get to know the children and help them in any way they can as well as trying to assist the nurses.
They come to realize that the doctor’s name, when pronounced fast, sounds a lot like Kris Kringle, and he’s so mysterious. He leaves to go on a trip and sends letters back from, would you believe, the North Pole?
While he’s away, the nurses are organizing their Christmas program. First, they have to convince the children to cooperate and take a part. What part would they choose?
Madhu wants to be a wise man since he is from the East, but they already have three wise men. He persists, “Look it up. Where in the Bible does it say there were only three?”
Where would they put Katrina if she wouldn’t take the bag off her head?
Costumes and different characters always turn an old story into a new one year after year, and this one is no different. Katrina will be an angel, as all of them decide to wear white masks. They didn’t stick to the script, but they just add their own twist to the story as it progresses to a touching and tender ending.
Author Kevin Alan Milne was born in Portland, Ore., and grew up in the nearby quiet town of Sherwood, where he now lives with his wife and five children. This is his first novel, but I feel sure we will be reading more from him in the future.
This book is very carefully plotted with characters who become real and sensitive. I would recommend it highly as one to be read to children who are old enough to understand the real meaning of Christmas or for children who understand that many children are hospitalized over the holidays and, through no fault of their own, face tremendous challenges.