The real meaning of Christmas is explored in this book, by former Wellington principal David Naughton Leavy.
It opens with the tale of Oliver and Toby, both of whom have a respect for each other, masked by their competitive leanings.
They both learn a valuable lesson; Oliver takes an opportunity to help and include Toby, and Toby learns that a friendship offered needs to be accepted to achieve a form of redemption.
In between, Oliver’s family prepares for another festive season – embracing it in its full Northern Hemisphere glory.
Naughton Leavy was born in Grappenhall, Cheshire. He emigrated with his wife to New Zealand to teach English, and it is clear this book is something of a nostalgic trip for him.
He states in his foreword that his parents “generated so much magic” into the build-up to Christmas, and that many parts of the book deal with those special things. There’s a nativity play, plenty of snow, presents, and a ritual to follow to decorate the tree.
His reasoning behind the book is honourable – he states that he hopes it will “tip the scales away a little bit from the money” so often associated with the festive season, and more towards the joys of peace, love and family.
The Herald Angels does make a valiant attempt. However, the execution falls flat.
Young readers from New Zealand will fail to relate to most of the traditions in the book. While Naughton Leavy writes of what he knows, it’s not what our younger generation know. The message could have still come across by documenting a Kiwi Christmas. There is such an over proliferation of northern hemisphere Christmas books, that this felt like a real missed opportunity.
The story is also sickly sweet – almost saccharine. While there is a plot, Oliver and Toby’s perceived rivalry is over before it really begins.
Oliver’s family’s lead-up to Christmas doesn’t go exactly to planned, but the drama – if you can call a dropped parcel that is instantly found a drama -- is solved almost instantly.
It’s overly loaded with feel-good stories, you half expect the characters to start whistling a jaunty tune or to ‘doff the cap’.
Despite this, it’s an easy read that young readers looking for an overly happy, simple read will enjoy.
Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser
Austin Macauley Publishers, RRP $11.95