Very far up north, in a village called Noel that looks just like a Christmas theme park, Ben and Miranda live with their Grandfather Juniper. Ben, 10, is worried about his sister Miranda, who has suddenly and mysteriously fallen silent. (Luckily for Grandpa and Ben, though, Miranda keeps right on doing their cooking and cleaning and smiling sweetly, too. She's a veritable Cinderella of the Snows.)
Ben rings the church bells on Christmas Day, tricking Santa Claus into arriving one hour early so Ben can ask his advice about Miranda. Santa Claus' cure: ''Reach deep down inside you for inspriation'' and ring the bells like the greatest musician on earth.
Surprise! It works! Miranda is cured.
Carly Simon's celebrity as a singer does not ensure her success as a writer in The Boy of the Bells. Her prose is stilted, veering between therapeutic earnestness (''No, Ben, this is your challenge,'' Santa harrumphs) and greeting-card lyricism. The plot has more than its share of gaps and inconsistencies. Even more disturbing is the insistent gender stereotyping of the children: the action, glory, and big dreams belong to Ben. Miranda is a passive wimp. The story closes with Ben seeing Santa's face before him saying ''It was you, Ben, it was all you...''
All that can be said of the illustrations in The Boy of the Bells is that they are appropriate to the text-awkward, amateurish, overly sweet, and bathed in a flat and garish light. D-