By Jean Patrick

Republic Book Columnist

Santa Claus gets tons of letters at Christmas time. But what about the rest of the year? “My Pen Pal, Santa,” by Melissa Stanton, is a collection of letters between 6-year-old Ava and Santa. In January, she writes a nice thank you letter with questions about the cookies he didn’t eat and New Year’s. But in the months ahead, the letters become more interesting. In March, Ava writes to Santa about her lost tooth and a question about the tooth fairy. Santa responds with a funny story about running into her on Christmas Eve. In September, Ava tells him about her seventh birthday and asks Santa about his age. Of course, he is vague.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

In August, Ava wonders what he and Mrs. Claus do for vacation. Santa mentions that he and Mrs. Claus go to the beach. In the illustration, they look like a typical older couple enjoying the water. (It can’t help but make you wonder if they are real people.)

The most interesting letters show a subtle sense of word play. In May, Ava writes about her garden where red tulips are growing with green beans. Santa writes back about the red poinsettias that he and Mrs. Claus grow in their greenhouse.

Illustrator Jennifer A. Bell adds light, whimsical illustrations to every set of letters. In almost every picture, Ava wears a combination of red and green. When she writes, she uses a snowman pencil.

Also, keep your eye out for the unexpected. She shows Ava making a gingerbread house on the beach.

“My Pen Pal, Santa,” tends a little heavy on the “Are you real?” question. But this isn’t a drawback. After all, it’s the question that everyone has.

“My Pen Pal, Santa.” By Melissa Stanton. Illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell. Random House, 32 pp. 2013.