Just in time for the holidays comes a rhyming story from Callista Gingrich about our nation’s celebration of Christmas. Brimming with events of our past, this fifth picture book in the Ellis Elephant series will educate young readers about history and maybe even entertain too. In addition, the colorful spreads by award-winning illustrator, Susan Arciero, add charm and warmth to Christmas in America.
Let me start my review by telling you a little about who author Callista Gingrich is and what qualifies her to write this educational book. First, there’s Gingrich’s political background. Straight out of college, she interned and then worked for almost a decade in the office of a congressman. Then she moved to the House Committee on Agriculture where she worked as Chief Clerk. Second, there’s Gingrich’s research background. After leaving her political positions, she joined her husband in creating a host of historical documentaries. Finally, there’s Gingrich’s religious background. Callista is a devoted Catholic, as well as a member of a professional choir which has even sang for the Pope. As you can see, Gingrich qualifies to write a pro-America and Christian tale about this nation’s past.
Next I’ll turn to the text of Christmas in America itself. It tells of how Ellis the Elephant travels back in time to discover how this special holiday has been celebrated throughout history. Ellis starts by visiting the settlers, who had left London, with a new world in sight. Upon the founding of many colonies, there was a time of holiday celebration, including the feasting on pies and drinking of cider, dancing and singing into the night, as well as sleigh rides “on a bright Christmas Day”. As I flipped pages, I found myself wondering which historical events would be highlighted and how Gingrich would connect each of them to Christmas. Some of my favorites included: a party at George Washington’s home, complete with a camel for his guests to meet; Andrew Jackson giving presents to orphans in need and even inviting them to a Christmas “frolic”; the Civil War soldiers enjoying a holiday treat of a Christmas tree decorated with dry salted meat. Ellis ends by blasting off with Apollo 8, where astronauts broadcast the story of creation to the nation on Christmas Eve. There’s no doubt that young readers will learn a lot about America’s past. Gingrich has thoughtfully even provided five end pages of resources.
Unfortunately, I have an overriding concern is: Will young readers actually enjoy Christmas in America? Especially if an adult guides them through a discussion of the whirlwind events some will, despite the lengthy rhymes, no doubt will memorize parts of Ellis’s journey. The illustrations will also delight. For everyone else though, I suspect they’ll lose interest before actually finishing Christmas in America. Every two pages, Gingrich introduces a new historical event. Not only did I yearn for Ellis to linger a little instead of jumping so quickly from event to event, but I quickly became overwhelmed by all the facts being spewed at me. What might have been nicer is a series of Ellis the Elephant books dedicated to discovering individual historical moments in our history, instead of a single tale that covered dozens.
Besides the captivating illustrations, Christmas in America contains an abundance of educational materials. While it will not become a favorite for me, it did inspire me to what to know more about America’s past. For that, Gingrich deserves credit.
My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.
How would you rate this book?