Book Review: A Pioneer Christmas

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

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Think Christmas in America has always been celebrated the way it is now? Think again. In the early 19th Century, American families did different things and emphasized different traditions. The values of family and togetherness at the holiday are the same, though. And you can find out much more about this topic in Barbara Greenwood's wonderful book A Pioneer Christmas.

Greenwood, the author of Gold Rush, is an expert on the topic of American history even though shes lives across the border in Ontario. She also has a knack for telling her stories in such a way that the reader wants to turn the page. The book is really a historical fiction, but it is packed with facts and illustrations of how the pioneers marked the end-of-the-year holiday.

The narrative follows the Robertson family, originally from Scotland, as they prepare for and celebrate Christmas. And the story actually advances through the few weeks before the holiday. But packed in between the plot and characters are vignettes of the scene at the time. For instance, the book includes directions for how to make a pomander, a particular kind of decoration; a garland; and a Cup-and-Ball Toy. Many people still use these things today, but they don't often make both of them themselves. In the section about Singing School, the author includes lyrics and even sheet music for one of the songs that the backwoods settlers were used to singing.

The illustrations, by regular collaborater Heather Collins, are top-notch as well, as illustrated above. They look like engravings that have captured action right as it happened.

All in all, this is a wonderful way to introduce Christmas traditions to young readers. Many of the traditions that Americans have today began about the time that this book is set, and readers will enjoy discovering just how alike—and how different—things are and were. The author even includes a section at the end comparing the two.

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