Review: Secrets of a Christmas Box

Secrets of a Christmas Box
Written by Steven Hornby
Color Illustration by Justin Gerard
Chapter Illustrations by Gabriel Hordos
Publisher: Ecky Thump Books, Incorporated
Pub. Date: September 2009
ISBN-13: 9780981588308

The Short of It:

Although the point of the book was to capture the magic of Christmas, I do not feel that this was achieved. In my opinion, the story was a bit on the dark side which surprised me a bit.

The Rest of It:

As I was reading the book, the first thing that I noticed was that the dialogue seemed a bit forced. The first couple of chapters were ‘He said / She said’ type conversations and although the words spoken seemed natural enough, the phrasing seemed almost script-like to me. However, by the fourth chapter this seemed to improve quite a bit so it was not an issue for me throughout the story.

Basically, the story is about a box of Christmas ornaments that come to life. My kids love to decorate the tree and as they take out each ornament, they always ask me where it came from, when we got it, etc. We’ve had these conversations year after year, they KNOW where they came from but it’s part of the fun. So when I read the premise of this book, I was really looking forward to it.

As each character was introduced, I did feel that there was some Christmas-y magic there. As the story progressed though, it sort of played out like a movie. Something happens, they respond, a discovery is made, etc. However, I didn’t expect it to take the turn that it did and it sort of threw me off. I wanted to be enchanted by the wonder of Christmas. Instead, I was thinking, this should be a Pixar movie.

Now in Hornby’s defense, after reading the book I do see that he has spent many years working in visual effects and animated movies. The book cover also states that he originally planned for Secrets of a Christmas Box to be a screenplay. So…since this is a debut novel, it’s not surprising that his previous experience came into play here. I was also a film major at one point so to me, it read like a screenplay as opposed to a novel. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not what I expected.

Additionally, I’m not sure of the demographic he is trying to hit. There are young children at the beginning of the novel, but from the dialogue it’s hard to tell how old they are. I would say this would be a good book for the 7-9 year-old set that still believes in Santa ( I know, silly me, everyone knows he’s real).

One other item to mention is that there are several pencil sketches throughout the novel that I found to be quite charming. Overall? I feel that it missed its mark. If anyone else has reviewed this book and would like me to include a link to your review, please let me know and I will add it to this post.

This signed review copy was sent to me by Steven Hornby and Ecky Thump Books.

9 thoughts on “Review: Secrets of a Christmas Box”

  1. What do you mean "dark side"? Did someone bash in the Christmas ornaments with a hammer? (ha ha, just a little dark side Christmas humor) But really some of these stories for kids *are* scary, I think! And would kids want to read something that reads like a screenplay? It all seems a bit odd.

  2. Jill – I would not go as far as saying that, but there is a hostile element to the story which is why I had a hard time figuring it into the "magical" realm. No blood, no guts… they are ornaments after all but there is some conflict.

  3. maybe the author would answer some interview-type questions about what he was aiming for–i always love hearing from authors about their motivation and intent.

    sorry this one didn't work for you–the premise sounds really promising. my sister (33) and i (35) battled it out over several childhood favorites when our mom & dad decided to pare back the ornaments in favor of smaller and more sophisticated (sigh!) trees. crystal and glass ornaments only these days. boooring! long live nostalgic ornaments.

  4. I usually avoid buying Christmas books anyway (at least for the kids) because the boys don't really have a preference for them. We usually check an holiday books out the library – which is what we would probably do if we saw this one. Nice review.

  5. Hi Ti,

    Thanks for your objective review. In answer to a few questions, I wrote the book to create an intense and memorable adventure for kids. I purposely did not want to make the story too lite and fluffy. Instead, I wanted the characters to go though some really gripping moments, where they would grow as characters, as well as develop their relationships with one another. Wow…! This is starting to sound like an interview… 🙂 If you are interested in a follow up Q&A, I'd be happy to oblige. You can contact me through:
    Thanks again.

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