Book: Santa Bruce
Author: Ryan T. Higgins
Age Range: 4-8
Santa Bruce is the fourth installment of the Ryan T. Higgins series that started with Mother Bruce (my review). There's also a new board book about Bruce, briefly discussed below. Bruce, I must say, is one of my favorite picture book characters. He is a consistently grumpy bear who is first (in Mother Bruce) roped into becoming the parent of four geese and later (in Hotel Bruce) expands his household to add three ridiculously determined mice.
In Santa Bruce, Bruce is forced to stay awake through the holidays, because his family is excited to celebrate. Because he is cold, he puts on some (red) long underwear and a warm hat. This leads to (you can guess) "A case of mistaken identity." Young animals start showing up on the doorstep, wanting to tell Santa Bruce about their Christmas wishes. Left to himself, Bruce would send these pests away ("I don't want all their dirty little feet in my ..."). The mice, naturally, feel otherwise. Despite his determined resistance, Bruce finds himself out with a sleigh delivering gifts on Christmas Eve.
The beauty of this book is that Bruce never brightens his expression. He grumbles and complains. He grits his teeth. He is put upon. And yet, he does what is asked of him, even when it is difficult. Picture a bear climbing a too-small tree to drop a package into a knothole, or a bear dressed like Santa losing his balance as he steps on a train set, and you get the idea. The primary text is always deadpan about Bruce's responses. Like this:
"Bruce decided to ignore the problem until it went away.
It did not.
It got worse."
"And with that, the parents left, shouting out with glee.
Bruce did not like glee."
This is augmented by dialog bubbles that add more detail, and give some of the supporting characters personality. These also give the adult reader more scope to add expression in reading aloud. This is a fabulous book for a parent and child to read together (though my daughter was too eager to wait for me, and read it on her own).
The other thing that makes Santa Bruce fun (and fun for adult readers, too, not just for kids) is the sly humor that Higgins throws in. My favorite scene in Santa Bruce shows Mama Bunny and Papa Bunny sitting by the wood-stove in their cozy den. Four baby bunnies are nestled in bed. The last room of the den contains "Grown-up Bunny who still lives with his parents" and is typing away on a computer, wearing headphones. This made me laugh out loud. The scenes with young animals sitting on Bruce's lap are also priceless, especially the porcupine who wants "ninety-nine red balloons." It's just a top-notch combination of text and illustration, centered around a strong, sympathetic main character.
It is possible that my love for Bruce is enhanced by the fact that I am sometimes grumpy (especially when someone is keeping me from getting my sleep). Nevertheless, I predict that Santa Bruce is going to be one of my family's favorite reads over the coming Christmas holiday. I think that any family in which Bruce is already a favorite (and where Christmas is celebrated) will want to add Santa Bruce to family holiday reading. Libraries will certainly want to add this one to their shelves.
Oh, and if you are looking to introduce a younger child to Bruce, I also recommend the new board book: 1 Grumpy Bruce: A Counting Book. Each page spread features a count of something, from "2 uninvited skunks" (scent wafting from their tails) to "9 porcupines wanting hugs" to "10 woodchucks chucking wood". Of course we end with "still 1 grumpy bear." The board book features simpler illustrations, but totally captures Bruce's grumpiness and Higgin's keen sense of absurdity. It is well worth a look!
You don't necessarily need to have read Hotel Bruce and Bruce's Big Move (which I actually haven't read) to appreciate Santa Bruce, but I would recommend reading the first book, Mother Bruce, for context. I highly recommend both Santa Bruce and 1 Grumpy Bruce for families and libraries everywhere.
Publication Date: September 4, 2018
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2018 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).