- Nickel Bay Nick by Dean Pitchford
Every year around Christmastime in Nickel Bay, a mysterious philanthropist dubbed “Nickel Bay Nick” leaves forty-five $100 bills around town over the course of twelve days. This year, though, Nickel Bay Nick has failed to show up, so the whole town’s depressed, and fifth-grader Sam is concerned that the lackluster economy will bring down his dad’s bakery. When Sam—who’s always been a bit of a troublemaker—accidentally destroys an elderly neighbor’s Christmas decorations, he’s pushed into helping Mr. Wells around the house … only to discover that Mr. Wells is, in fact, Nickel Bay Nick. Sam’s rigorous training under the eyes of Mr. Wells’ friend Dr. Sakata prepares him to be the one to drop the money in the twelve days post-Christmas with ninja-like stealth—until Sam breaks Mr. Wells’ trust and leaves one of the bills for his father. Sam is realistically portrayed as a good guy who’s made a lot of serious mistakes, mostly from falling in with a couple of eighth-grader hooligans, and the facts that he has an absent mother and a transplanted heart are effectively woven into the text without becoming contrivances. However, the treatment of Sam’s delinquency—and the implicit lesson to dump “bad eggs”—gives the book a preachy tone overall, and the ending tips toward the maudlin and unbelievably tidy in its gasp-inducing reveals. Still, Sam’s antics as he preps for his espionage and plants the Benjamins are good fun, and readers just beginning to negotiate their independence will likely recognize themselves in Sam’s rebellion. Fans of cunning capers, celebrate: there’s finally a sentimental holiday novel for you.