In the Nick of Time
Make A Way Media, LLC (2019)
Reviewed by Eve Panzer for the Barefoot Librarian and Reader Views Kids (11/2019)
I don’t usually review holiday books, but I had to make an exception for “In the Nick of Time” by Deedee Cummings. Although the story takes place during the Christmas season, the messages from this story are applicable in every season. And with my focus on global messages and diversity, this book touched on many aspects that I look for in a book.
I was surprised to learn from the author of this book that there are not many books that feature children of color as a strong role model for the Christmas season. She wrote this book so that her son could see a brown person like himself taking action when someone was in need. All children should see themselves reflected in books as well as having windows opened to new cultures. This book beautifully fills a void found in children’s holiday books.
Nick Saint, the 10-year-old main character of the story, lives a comfortable existence. His biggest worry is wondering when his new video game will arrive and to avoid using the word “stupid” around his mother. Through an “accident” the mailman delivers Nick Saint a letter meant for St. Nick. Nick’s mother encourages him to open the letter. It is from a homeless boy, Cooper, living in a shelter. His wish is for his mother to get a job and his little brother to get the toy truck he wants for Christmas. Nick is confused by Cooper’s letter.
“He wrote a letter to Santa and asked for a job for his mom? That is so sss…”
“Better not say it.” Nick’s mom interrupted him before he could get himself into more trouble.
“Santa has a toy factory, not a job factory,” Nick explained.
Nick’s mom replies. “There is nothing stupid about people asking for what they need.”
Nick complains to his mother that there is nothing a kid can do to help a grown-up get a job, but his mother tells him, “Think about it.” Nick figures out that Cooper goes to his school. Since Nick loves video games, he figures Cooper will be thrilled to get one too, especially since he was only asking for things for others in his letter. Secretly Nick puts one of his video games in Cooper’s locker. However, things don’t turn out the way Nick thought they would.
Nick learns that Cooper and his family are living in one room in a shelter. Cooper’s mother does not have a job and they can’t afford a house. Not only does Cooper not have an Xbox to play the game Nick secretly gave him, but there are not even enough plugs in their room in the shelter for him to use. Nick is shocked to hear this story “Never did it cross Nick’s mind that every child in his school did not have a home or, even video games to play. He had never heard of this. No one ever talked about this. It wasn’t on any TV shows he watched. Everyone he knew had a home, or so Nick thought.”
Nick pondered on everything he had just learned. “Wow, Nick thought. With all that Cooper could have asked for, the things that Cooper wanted most were not even for himself. Cooper’s Christmas wishes were for those he loved the most.” Nick became determined to do something to help Cooper and his family. He wanted to do something for someone else. With the help of the school, Nick and his family collected food, toys, and clothes as well as hold a job fair for families in need at his school. Nick was able to help Cooper’s family get everything they needed.
There are so many things I liked about this book. The story and characters are realistic and relatable. The situations and the conversations between Nick and his mother are natural and believable. Without being preachy, this book relays several important universal messages. These include treating people with respect and empathy; getting to know others; and reaching out to people who are in need. Caring for fellow human beings and thinking of others first is another lesson learned. And realizing anyone of any age can make a difference. In addition, the book brings to light the ever-increasing problem of homelessness. Nick’s shock at the idea that a fellow student at his school has no home is not uncommon. This book handles the subject of homelessness in a positive, respectful way that children can understand.
Nick grew very naturally as a character in the book. Part of this growth and character development was due to the way Nick’s mother handled the issues that arose in the story. She encouraged Nick to think about how he could be empowered to help his friend, even though Nick is just a kid. Nick’s mother also addressed Nick’s habit of calling people stupid in a straightforward way.
“What did you just say?”
“I said stupid mailman Mom! Look at what he left.”
“I don’t care what he did. You don’t call people stupid, Nick. Ever”
“Mom, look, the mailman delivered this letter addressed to Saint Nick…”
“Accidents happen. That makes them – accidents, not the people that made them – stupid. I don’t care what he did. You don’t call people stupid Nick. Ever.”
The references to St. Nick and Christmas make this a holiday book. However the messages are applicable year-round, so it can be shared in all seasons. Although the author intentionally made the main character brown so her son could identify with him, the color of the characters was not the main focus. Any child could identify with the characters in the story and learn valuable lessons. I also enjoyed the illustrations in the book. The colors are bright and cheerful, and the characters are not stereotyped. This book contains many positive messages in a non-preachy way while telling a story children will be interested in and relate to. It provides parents and teachers a great starting point for important discussions. I highly recommend this book!