Buchta pairs the merriness of the holiday season with a key lesson for readers on the importance of helping others. When Lucas realizes there aren’t enough gifts for the new resident to join in the fun, he thoughtfully gives up his own, and the intrinsic reward that comes from that act prompts him to think “that was it! The wonderful once. That was the moment that changed [him] forever.” His compassion lands him a visit from the Spirit of Giving, who, upon hearing Lucas’s wish to “give every girl and boy in the world a toy,” swiftly rescues him from the orphanage and whisks him away to a curious place called the North Pole—full of stardust and snowflake magic, Elves, and toys as far as the eye can see. She also bestows a new name on Lucas: his own name jumbled up—“Santa Claus”—and readers will be delighted to see where the story takes him from there.
O’Leary Brown’s illustrations meld with the magic of the season, their warm hues and intricate details evoking vintage Christmas cards, and though the ending comes too soon, it leaves readers with a delicious anticipation and sense of “how the power of a single unselfish gesture changed the world forever.”
Takeaway: Creative spin on the origin of Santa Claus, with a valuable lesson on giving.
Comparable Titles: Tiffany D. Jackson’s Santa in the City, Maureen Fergus’s The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
Buchta’s illustrated children’s book tells a new origin story for a well-known holiday figure.
In a quaint, unnamed village town,there’s an orphanage where every child is happy and well cared for. The entire village
chips in each year for a beautiful, festive Christmas celebration in which every child gets the opportunity to pick out a
present from a large pile. Lucas Astan, the youngest, chooses the smallest gift: a beautiful, miniature wooden sleigh, which
he loves. Late in the evening, a very tall man drops a sad young girl off at the orphanage. In an effort to make her feel
welcome, Lucas decides to give her his precious sleigh. This moment serves as the catalyst for the rest of the boy’s
notable life. Soon, the Spirit of Giving appears to him and praises his kindness, promising to make his wishes come true.
She magically brings Lucas to a wintry place: the North Pole. Young readers will quickly understand that Lucas’ reward is
to become Santa Claus. The Spirit intriguingly explains that a large storm of stardust and snowflakes created the
omniscient elves who inhabit the North Pole. It turns out that the elves created the Naughty and Nice lists, which is an
offbeat spin on the traditional Santa tale; so, too, is the fact that Santa’s sleigh is a life-size version of the one that Lucas
gave away. The skillfully executed, full-color painterly illustrations are quite realistic, featuring characters with a range of
skin tones; Lucas is depicted with pale skin. Confusingly, though, on one two-page spread, the characters’ faces look
morose while the text describes a festive atmosphere.
A work that creatively updates the Santa Claus mythos.
The Wonderful Once Book Review
Posted by Literary Titan
Young Lucas is one of several children whose home is an orphanage situated in a quiet valley with farms on all sides. Lucas and the other children are fortunate to have a loving home there until they are adopted and find families of their own. Christmas, a time that can be especially difficult for children like Lucas, turns into an opportunity for him to offer kindness to a new girl who is alone and afraid. When he offers her the precious wooden sleigh he has just unwrapped, Lucas opens the door to an experience that will change not only his life, but the lives of children all over the world.
The Wonderful Once: A Christmas Story, written by J.R. Buchta and illustrated by Erin O’Leary Brown, is a Santa Claus origin story based on kindness, generosity, and a giving spirit. This beautifully illustrated children’s book brings to life the story of how Santa Claus came to be and features a storyline that takes shape in an orphanage. Lucas, the book’s main character, is visited by the Spirit of Giving following his selfless act, and is whisked away on a journey that ends with an exciting new life at the North Pole.
Buchta’s book teaches readers how rewarding it is to recognize when someone else is in need and to reach out with a giving heart. Lucas is both loving and generous. He is a wonderful example for young readers. Lessons like the one contained within Buchta’s book are greatly needed in children’s literature. Even though this is billed as a Christmas story, the lessons within are timeless and without season.
I highly recommend The Wonderful Once: A Christmas Story to any parent or teacher looking to add new stories of kindness to their regular rotation. In addition, I can see Buchta’s tale becoming a family holiday favorite as it offers a new take on the story of Santa Claus–an instant favorite.