THE EMPTY STOCKING
by Richard Curtis and Rebecca Cobb - Penguin Books, 2013
ages 2 to 12 years / Christmas
Sam and Charlie are twins; one is 'naughty' while the other is 'nice'. Which is cause for considerable consternation in the family.
Everyone is worried about what will happen to naughty twin Charlie on Christmas Eve because:
“There was no way Santa wouldn't know what Charlie had been up to this year.”
And everyone loves Charlie, so the family goes to bed on Christmas Eve feeling quite worried. And sure enough, Santa comes and leaves one twin a bulging stocking and one twin an empty stocking.
(Gorgeous illustration here when Santa leaves the room with a tear in his eye because: “He never liked doing it. But, sometimes, Santa has to get tough.”
But there’s a mix-up! Santa got the twins confused! So now ‘nice’ Sam has an empty stocking and ‘naughty’ Charlie has a full stocking.
And there's the thing - Charlie isn’t really naughty at all. When she wakes up and sees her sister’s empty stocking, she quickly shares out the presents from her own stocking.
It’s funny stuff – showing a loving (but worried) family, a little girl who is just trying to enjoy life and gets labeled 'naughty' and a slightly frazzled but very dedicated Santa (who turned around).
I like Santa books that have a sense of humour. As parents, we tread on dangerous ground with Santa – we want the fun and fantasy of it all but it’s tricky to get the balance right. We certainly don’t want to be lying to our children.
This book treads the line really well. It treats Santa as absolutely real, but there’s a wink to the story-telling:
"Then Mum and Dad went upstairs to bed pretty early too, because they’d heard a story about a mum and dad who had stayed up late and actually bumped into Santa Claus on the stairs – and Santa Claus had scampered and they’d had to quickly fill stockings for their kids themselves to make up for Santa’s hasty exit."
Moments like this will make the book appealing to older children – even pre-teens will get a giggle out of it. The story is conversationally and conspiratorially written making it easy and fun to read aloud.
The illustrations do a great job of creating a feeling of a normal family living a happy life. They’re sharp and quick and lively; not at all sentimental and blurry.
This is a lovely book if yours is a normal family with at least one ‘naughty’ child.
It’s full of love and redemption and unveiling of goodness and it’s the unveiling of goodness that was always there that makes the theme so appealing. Charlie always was good; it was just that, quite often, that was hard to see. And in the end she starts to see herself as ‘a good girl’ too.
Classifying children as naughty or nice, good or bad, or any other dichotomy is problematic but The Empty Stocking has a wry grin about it when Charlie is called naughty and Sam is called nice. I really appreciate that in showing the ‘good girl’ in Charlie, Sam is still a ‘good girl’ too.
And that’s a pretty nice Christmas message – that mostly people are good, even if they sometimes seem to be acting naughty.