1. Annika, the Queen of Light. Annika’s beautiful older sister, Kerstin has always performed the role of St. Lucia in their family’s Christmas ceremony. But now, Kerstin is off at college, and St. Lucia’s role falls to Annika. But how can the trollish-looking Annika play the part of the beautiful St. Lucia?
2. The Sea Watcher. It is the rule of the Viking village that only the captain’s eldest son can be the Sea Watcher. But Thorfinn, younger son of the captain, covets the position, while Eric, the oldest son has no use for it. Can Thorfinn convince the village that he is the fitting man for the job?
3. The Olive Tree. For many long years, the house next door has stood empty, and Saleem’s family has eaten the olives from the beautiful tree that grows there. But now, a family is moving into the home. Will they allow Saleem to continue harvesting some of the olives?
4. Andy and Wong Pao. Andy’s mother is discouraged, and Andy doesn’t know how to help. She’s been working so hard to make ends meet for the two of them, and Andy doesn’t know how to help her. Unless… Maybe cleaning up the house and cooking dinner will help!
5. A Rupee Goes a Long Way. Ranji has a rupee. And he wants to spend it on jalebis, but the shopkeeper won’t accept the coin – he says it’s too old to be in circulation. So Ranji starts a trade – a rupee for a fishing pole, a fishing pole for a flute, a flute for a necklace, a necklace for a new rupee…
6. Maria and Masha. Maria is a little nervous when Miss Jones announces that they’ll be writing letters to children in Russia. After all, how does she know that her life will be interesting to someone from Russia?
7. An Arctic Welcome. Matthew is nervous. A new teacher is coming to teach at their school deep in the Arctic, and Matthew has no gift to give him – at least, not a real gift. But maybe the teacher will be more of a kindred spirit than Matthew had anticipated…
8. Shing Lee and the Sampan. Shing Lee is eager to return to spend his summer vacation out fishing with Grandfather on his sampan. But he finds that Grandfather’s fishing business is not doing well – the sampan needs a motor to be of any real use in the business, and Grandfather has no money to buy one. Can Shing Lee and his Grandfather find a way to earn extra money, or will Grandfather be forced to sell the sampan?
9. The Great Wax Dilemma . Every family in the village should have a candle to celebrate Hannukah. But there is a dilemma – Cohen, the candlemaker does not have enough wax to supply all of these candles. Can Cohen, Tami, and Joshua find a way to solve this problem before it’s too late?
10. The Turban. Gambar Singh’s grandfather is a proud man. And he’s a man who loves the traditions of his Indian forefathers. That’s why he gives Gambhir a turban for his twelfth birthday and expects him to wear it to school. Can Gambhir find a way to respect his grandfather and not be embarrassed in front of his schoolmates?
11. Rodika. Mayi lives in Transylvania, a land where Romanians and Hungarians often live side by side, even though they do not speak the same language. When a Romanian family moves into the house next door, Mayi wonders. Will she be able to make friends with the new little girl even though they cannot speak to one another?
12. Bombu’s Gift to the King. A new king is to be crowned over all of the tribes in the land, and Bombu wants desperately to be there for the ceremony. But no one may come before the king who does not bring some rare and valuable gift for him. Bambu has no such gift but sets out for the ceremony anyway. Surely he can think of something before he arrives…
13. The Mystery of the Red Duck. Kari lives in a Norwegian village with her pet duck, Greta. Kari loves Greta more than anything else in the world, and so she is horrified when Froken Haska declares that she will have that duck for herself. Will Froken Haska fulfill her threat?
14. Bravo, the Garlic-Breathing Donkey. Vasos wishes he did not have to ride Bravo, the donkey, down to market and sell the garlic his Papa grows. He would much rather sit at the harbor and watch the boats sail by. But he never dreamed that in the few moments that he stopped to gather a few pretty rocks from off of the hillside that Bravo would eat up all of the garlic cloves! What can Vasos tell his father? And is there a way for Vasos to make some money with Bravo, anyway?
15. Una Pinata Para Los Pobres. Pedro is ecstatic. Mama and Papa have given him permission to choose the piñata and treats that will be used at tonight’s posada! But as Pedro passes the hungry and homeless on his way to the market, he begins to feel guilty that so many should be unhappy while he is pampered…
Annika says of herself that she looks like “Jultomtar, the little Christmas troll.” [pg. 8] The entire focus of Annika, the Queen of Light is Swedish traditions in the celebration of St. Lucia’s Day.
In Andy and Wong Pao, Wong Pao explains the concept of the yin and yang to Andy. Andy concludes that philosophy “would not solve all his problems, but it would help.” [pg. 31] Andy goes on to selflessly serve his mother by cleaning the house and cooking a meal for them while she rests.
In The Great Wax Dilemma, a Jewish village celebrates Hannukah. Two of its inhabitants are described as having Tsedakah, the spirit of sharing.
In The Turban, Gambhir is faced with a unique struggle. He wishes to honor his grandfather, even though he himself does not value the traditions that his grandfather treasures. After a struggle, he does the right thing and wears the turban to school in spite of the prospect of being mocked.
In Rodika, it is said that “Mayi played her own secret games, making magic by twisting the fingers of both hands, one on top of the other, until they looked like pretzels. The magic kept her safe from the witch who lived in the dark, damp cellar, from the arms of the weeping willow that reached down to grab her, and from the wolves that lurked behind the trees, howling hungry aoooooo’s that only she could hear.” [pg. 68]
In Bravo, the Garlic-Breathing Donkey, Vasos is tempted to lie to his father about his own carelessness, but instead chooses to tell the truth. Bravo!
In Mystery of the Red Duck, Froken Haska declares that she will one day have Greta, the duck – “What magic her feet and bill would add to my brew.” [pg. 79] Later, when Greta mysteriously changes colors, Karu thinks it is due to magic. It isn’t.
In Una Pinata Para Los Pobres, Pedro takes a shortcut that he knows his mother wants him to avoid because of the poverty evident there. After witnessing their unhappiness, Pedro is moved with pity and asks his parents to invite them to the posada.
A woman calls a morning ‘magic’.
Luck is credited twice.
Conclusion. Mediocre writing, but sweet stories.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret