I was first introduced to the concept of nisse when my family had a Danish exchange student back in the 90s. I was delighted to find this beautifully Christmassy tale about them nominated for this year’s Cybils award.
Wishing all a happy Christmas, Solstice, and/or Hannukah, as appropriate!
Winterfrost by Michelle Houts. Candlewick, 2014.
Now that Bettina’s twelve, she’s not really sure she believes in the little nisse, whom her grandfather told her help Danish families take care of their farms. Her family always used to set out the traditional bowl of rice pudding for the nisse on Christmas Eve anyway, just in case. But this year everything has gone wrong. Grandfather isn’t there, for the first time ever. And Mor and Far were both called away right after Christmas Eve dinner, leaving Bettina in charge of baby Pia. But in all the upset, no one remembered the nisse. And the nisse aren’t happy… Baby Pia goes missing during her nap, and Bettina must find her before her parents get back.
It’s a little hard as a modern parent to get past the twelve-year-old being left alone, much less with a baby to take care of. But if I doubt that’s a difficulty that children will have, especially once they get into the story. It’s a gentle adventure, overall, exploring Danish countryside and folklore as Bettina’s journey to rescue her sister turns just as much into a journey of forgiveness and self-discovery. There’s just enough tension to keep it from being boring while still staying a cozy Christmas story. My son is reading it to himself now.