Written by: Myra Gabor
Have you ever paused before opening a door? Just knew that something was waiting behind it? Something bad. That’s what happens in H.D. Gordon’s Santa’s Little Helper.
H.D. Gordon brings us back to our childhood fears as she writes about the children in Santa’s Little Helper.
Each child in the story has been given a present that was found on the front porch. It’s a box and inside the box is a doll, an elf, with wide oval eyes, dressed in green with sweet gold jingly bells on its hat and shoes. And a permanent grin on its face. The doll has a name: Santa’s Little Helper. There is also a book inside the package with a nursery rhyme and pictures. The book says that there’s a list of children, those who are naughty and those who are nice. The parents assure their children that they are on the nice list. But the children know, just from looking at the doll, that somehow they have been placed on the naughty list.
Each child shudders when looking at the doll. Not one of them wants the elf doll in the bedroom at night. They know that it is evil, but five-year-olds don’t have the ability to express themselves or even put a name to what they are feeling.
At night, each child is too upset to sleep. They keep looking at the elf and seeing that, instead of white, square teeth, the doll’s grin seems to be wider and the teeth now seem to be brown and have sharp points. Each child is afraid to leave his bed. But then suddenly they feel the weight of the doll in bed with them. They are desperate to scream for help, but their throats have closed up too tightly.
When the parents hear strange noises at night, they go to investigate. They see that each doll is not in the place where they left it. But grownup logic dictates that the elf doll surely didn’t move itself.
Each child is alone in his fear and his misery. They have no vocabulary to communicate with their parents. In turn, each parent is worried, but doesn’t know how to talk to his child about his concerns. We have a cross section of parents, a single mother, an abusive husband with submissive wife and a conventionally happy couple. None of them sees anything wrong with the elf doll and is happy to place it in the child’s bedroom. There is also a kindergarten teacher who recognizes the children’s misery as she has been through it herself. Yet she refuses to believe that the nightmare has returned. She was labeled “crazy” growing up and went through years of therapy. As much as she wants to help the distressed children she finds herself reliving her childhood terrors instead.
As each child does his five-year-old best to get rid of the doll, the tension slowly builds. And Mr. Gordon knows how to bring his story to several suspenseful cliffhangers. Be prepared to have the pants scared off you.
Sometimes people say that the book is a “real page turner”. Not for me. Not in this case. The book was so scary that I was actually afraid to turn the page and see what happened to the children.
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