We turned the pages slowly, soaking up the magical illustrations that seemed to glow with moonlight reflecting off of snow. Though Matt Tavares’s Dasher only came out this fall, it felt like we were thumbing through a classic that had been passed down through generations.
We’ve read a lot of Christmas books. Bedtime stories have been sacred to our nighttime routine since my oldest daughter was an infant, drooling and cooing at board books that meant little to nothing to her at the time. She was just a few years old when we started a book advent calendar tradition that quickly became one of my favorite parts of the whole holiday season.
Our choice in stories has evolved throughout the last decade — gone are the board books and the simple rhyming, repetitive stories that used to bring my kids so much joy. Now we’re on to meatier stories, picture books that make us all think and that get my eight-year-old asking lots of questions.
Dasher is one of those books. It’s destined to become a holiday favorite.
Not many of the Christmas books we’ve read have paid much attention to the story behind Santa’s reindeer. Yes, they’re mentioned. Sometimes they’re used to add a dash of comedy or to provide a little help moving the plot along. Like faithful pups, the reindeer are always there for the big guy in red when he needs them. But in Dasher, the reindeer are the story.
The story begins with Dasher and her reindeer family, who are part of J.P. Finnegan’s Traveling Circus and Menagerie. Life on the road is hard. During the day, the family is crammed together in the hot sun, surrounded by crowds of people. At night they don’t sleep much, but Mama tells them stories of a magical place that was cool and snowy, a place where she and their father were allowed to roam. It was right under the North Star.
While Dasher loves her family and enjoys meeting all of the children that come to visit, she longs to see that magical place her mom told her about. One night, though her mom had warned her against it, Dasher escapes through a fence blown open by the wind.
With no real plan other than following the North Star, Dasher wanders the woods for hours. Her destination still way off on the horizon, she begins to wonder if she’d ever get there. But after making a wish on the North Star, she heard a noise in the distance.
A horse named Silverbell was apologizing to a man named Santa. The horse seemed to be having trouble pulling a sleigh full of toys that were to be delivered to children. Wanting to help, Dasher steps in. She has the time of her life flying from rooftop to rooftop and eating a seemingly endless supply of carrots. She forgets all about the North Star until morning, when they land and she learns it was right overhead.
Through a combination of bravery and kindness, Dasher made it to that magical place Mama had spoken about — and it was every bit as wonderful as she had dreamed. There’s only one thing missing: her family.
Gorgeous illustrations and what can only be described as a calm, cozy tone combine to form this book that will pull readers of all ages in and delight them with a story they might not have wondered about until now. Afterward, it will be all they can think about.