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Michael Strobl
Santa Camp

Middle Grade; Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror; (Market)

Santa Camp is a whimsical fantasy telling the story of how Santa Claus is planning to retire and is looking to find his replacement. In Part I, the story begins when impish young Nate loses a tooth on Christmas Eve. In the middle of the night, Nate discovers Santa and the Tooth Fairy together in Nate’s living room where Nate learns some shocking news about the two visitors. Among other things, Santa reveals that he’s planning to retire and asks Nate to come to a week-long Santa Camp to compete for the position. In Part II, Nate goes to Santa Camp along with seven other boys. At camp, we meet Randy the Elf, learn more about Rudolph, discover how reindeer fly, and follow the eight boys as they endure various tests and training to see which one has the “right stuff” to be the next Santa. One by one, the boys are eliminated until only three remain. Nate, and two others, are invited to accompany Santa on a ride-along during the next Christmas Eve. In Part III, Santa and the boys prepare for the big night. After departing the North Pole with eight reindeer and a sleigh full of presents – and after an unplanned stop – things go terribly wrong and, on Nate’s final test, Christmas teeters near disaster. Can Nate save the day?
Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 9 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 8 out of 10
Overall: 8.75 out of 10


Plot/Idea: Strobl's novel is a quick and enjoyable experience that will keep middle grade fans and their adult readers engaged as they follow what Nate's required to do in order to become the next Santa Claus.

Prose: The clever writing is peppered with puns and wordplay, and Strobl pens several references aimed at adult readers that make this an entertaining family experience.

Originality: The novel's premise that children are contenders to become the next Santa Claus is innovative, and Strobl delivers inventive backstories for both Santa and the Tooth Fairy that will amuse readers—as will Rudolph's current state.

Character/Execution: Santa Camp boasts a nice variety of characters that will appeal to readers. Nate's frequent moral grayness and threat of being on the naughty list makes his opportunity to be the next Santa very intriguing, and readers will enjoy seeing how his pluckiness plays into his ultimate outcome.

Date Submitted: August 29, 2023

Young readers will find a heap of laughs in Strobl’s entertaining debut as Nate and his sister Olivia unravel the mysteries behind Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. When Nate loses a tooth on Christmas Eve, he’s concerned whether both Santa and the Tooth Fairy will visit his house in the same night—and on top of those worries, he’s also uncertain if he’ll make the nice list—or be stuck with no presents on Christmas morning. Luckily, the two legends each make an appearance, but Nate’s shocked when they reveal secret info about their relationship—and that they need his help to find a replacement for Santa so that jolly old elf can finally retire.

Nate, of course, agrees to lend Santa a hand (what young boy wouldn’t jump at the chance to attend Santa camp and train to be the next St. Nick?), and Strobl delivers plenty of merrymaking along the way. Spoiler alert: Rudolph may be a superstar, but he’s grossly out of shape—and Santa’s understudies gain access to some seriously high-tech training equipment, including a state-of-the-art Sleigh Simulation Center and magical oats (that cause some problems for the more mischievous boys in the group). The Tooth Fairy’s hunting a replacement, too, and Olivia shows enough promise that she earns a ticket to camp alongside Nate, giving the story some holiday parallels that are equally hilarious and creative, particularly when the girls-in-training flub their first attempt at tooth gathering.

The action culminates with Nate and two other boys in the top of his class earning a ride-along with Santa on Christmas Eve. Of course, it doesn’t go according to plan, and Nate somewhat predictably saves the day, but the hijinks and bumps in the road result in an exciting night. Piwowarski’s black and white sketches capture the mirth as well as the magic, making this a well-rounded, amusing holiday tale.

Takeaway: A young boy may have what it takes to be the next Santa in this merry holiday tale.

Great for fans of: Michael Fry’s The Naughty List, Jonathan Emmett’s The Santa Trap.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A-
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A