Candlewick. Sept. 2019. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781536201376.
K-Gr 2–A magical origin story of Dasher, the first of Santa’s flying reindeer. Dasher, the youngest reindeer in J.P. Finnegan’s Traveling Circus and Menagerie, dreams and wishes for freedom, to be at the North Pole where the ground is covered in a cool blanket of snow. One night a storm helps Dasher escape and, while wandering in the woods, she meets Santa with his sleigh and horse, Silverbell. Dasher helps the pair deliver Christmas presents and, when the night is over, she finds that her wish has come true, she has made it home to the North Pole. The story opens with a detailed and expansive layout of the circus and menagerie, hot and dusty and crowded, clearly not a comfortable home for a reindeer family. Light is used to excellent effect in all of the illustrations. The twinkling North Star guides Dasher through the forest when she first escapes and on a later page radiant beams of moonlight illuminate Santa and Dasher when they meet for the first time. The text is formal and reserved and has the feel of a folktale or myth. On several pages the text is set in black typeface on top of color illustrations, which makes it difficult to read and is incongruous to the rest of the story, where text is set in large white boxes with decorative elements. The illustrations mirror the stately and calming text and are rarely dynamic, with one notable exception occurring when the escaping form of Dasher breaks through the white border and runs off the page entirely.
VERDICT The overall message is one of family and togetherness, made possible by the magical powers of Santa Claus.

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