Tuesday 23 November 2010

Review: Secret Santa - Agent of X.M.A.S. by Guy Bass

One night a year, Santa J. Claus delivers presents to the children of the world...but for the rest of the time, he's protecting the world as the top secret agent of the Xtremely Mysterious Agency of Secrets (X.M.A.S.), dishing out his own brand of justice to the world's most dastardly criminals. Santa and his Little Helper, newly qualified X.M.A.S. agent Jingle Bells, are on the trail of Dr Cumulus Nimbus, who's hell-bent on creating a new ice age...and Santa hates snow! Can they stop the evil plot before the world is snowed under?

Santa is for life, not just for Christmas with this fab new book from author Guy Bass and illustrator David Lopez. Continuing my focus on picture books I turned to this little beauty, kindly donated to my cause by the generous Lauren Ace at Stripes Publishing. Many people assume that picture books are for younger readers but illustrations in books are just as important in books for many children in the 8-10 age group, especially if they are struggling or reluctant readers. Images relating to the story help these readers engage more readily with the plot, and also help break up that big blocks of text that can scare off some children. Secret Santa: Agent of X.M.A.S. is the perfect book for all children in this age range, struggling reader or more confident they will love the crazy and hilarious adventures of this new superhero and his eleven sidekick.

I am sure many children over the years have asked the incredibly important question: What does Santa do for the other 364 days of the year? And I am sure most of them have been fobbed off with standard answers such as "sleeping" or "making toys" or such like. Now, however, the truth has finally been revealed - the man in red is actually the top agent for the Xtremely Mysterious Agency of Secrets (X.M.A.S.) and spends those 364 days saving the planet from the dastardly actions of the world's most dangerous criminals. A team of highly-trained Elf Agents work tirelessly to monitor all kinds of criminal activity and add the most deadly perpetrators to The Naughty List. No reindeer pulled sleigh for this Santa though, he needs something far more practical - in this case it is a Mark 499 Sleigh, a high speed vehicle that can travel on land, water and, of course, through air.... but that's not all: by activating its quantum core good old SC can also travel "at the speed of time" (well how else could he deliver so many presents to so many children all over the world on that one day a year when he takes a break from crime-fighting?).

This book (which I hope will be the first of many) sees Santa being given a new Little Helper, an elf aptly named Jingle Bells who has supposedly come "top of the tree" at X.M.A.S. Academy. I say supposedly as Jingle Bells has a secret he wants to hide from everyone, but in doing so he finds himself thrown head first into a life threatening mission on his first day on the job, and quickly discovers that working for X.M.A.S. is not all about making presents to be delivered at that festive time of the year. As a reluctant sidekick to the heroic secret agent Santa Jingle Bells provides many of the hilarious moments that will have kids and parents laughing out loud together. We are also treated to a maniacal master villain who wants to dominate the world through extreme climate change - starting with a new Ice Age for the USA.

Guy Bass obviously has an off the wall sense of humour, and uses this to give new meaning to the many well known and loved legends and stories that surround Santa Claus. He is aided and abetted by the fantastic illustrations of David Lopez, used to both add humour and detail to the story (although I so wish they were in colour). There are some pretty complicated words at times in this story, but I don't think this should put off readers of 7 or 8 - with a little help they should cope fine, although they would enjoy it even more if read to them by a parent as a bedtime book.

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