The text does a good job of describing the day to day life of work and planning and compromise as the plantation prepares to celebrate Christmas. Early traditions of Christmas trees, caroling and cooking for the holidays are explained in historical context. The complex interactions between slaves and owners are presented on several levels. As the Big Days approach the slaves are seen working to prepare the big house in all its glory. In the early morning and late at night they work to prepare their own celebrations by sweeping dirt floors, patching together gifts from scraps and scrounging for musical instruments for late night dancing.
They are joyful and exuberant in their anticipation of the days off and then heartbroken and devastated at the end of the holiday on Jan. 1 when
As an adult reading this I can see the irony and incongruity but I am afraid the sweetness of the story might cover the tragedy so that children may only see that this lifestyle, while painful for the slaves, worked out OK on the whole. I guess that brings up a bigger question: how much of the ugly truth do children need to hear, and how young? I think this book is a good one to share with middle grade and older children where you can have discussion about these things. Taken on its own I think the depth that is here in the text would be missed by most pre-adolescent children. It is also good to learn the historical background for the songs, traditions and recipes given. Sweet potato pie, holly and evergreen decorations and the simple handmade gifts imbued with family connections become more meaningful when the distant African and Southern slave cultural roots are known. On the whole I think this book is a treasure, but not an easy one to carry.Technorati Tags: African American, history, slavery, Christmas, kidlit, middle grades