Monday, December 3, 2012

Short Story Spotlight: Christmas on the Prairie by Sue Wright

"Christmas on the Prairie" by Sue Wright. from Very Merry Christmas Tales. 2004. Scholastic. ISBN: 9780439685141

It is 1873 and Katy Billings, who has grown up in her grandparents’ fancy house in St. Louis, is disappointed by the new sod house her family has built in Nebraska. Though her sister Stella has big plans for decorating the house for the holiday, Katy is convinced the house will be ugly. Her parents believe in Christmas miracles, however, and sure enough, paper snowflakes, bits of greenery, and a Christmas tree with ornaments hand-carved by Mr. Billings make the new house a perfectly festive place for the Billings family and their neighbors to celebrate.

"Christmas on the Prairie" is only ten pages long, but there is lots to be taken away from it. 1873, we learn in the story, is the first year that the state of Nebraska has recognized Christmas as a state holiday. For 21st Century Americans who kick off Christmas in November and listen to Christmas music 24/7, it’s hard to imagine a time when Christmas wasn’t a major national holiday. I think it’s also hard for many kids to imagine living in a sod house and decorating for Christmas with only the few items available to them. Without being preachy, "Christmas on the Prairie" drives home that lesson adults are always interested in teaching kids - that Christmas is not about things, but about appreciating one another.

Also present in the story are three Pawnee boys who are drawn to Katy’s house by the family’s organ music. Though this story is essentially about a white family celebrating Christmas on the prairie, the author adds to the authenticity of the time period by mentioning the American Indians who also lived in the same area. It is especially nice to see the gift exchange between the Billingses and the three boys, which is part of what makes this Katy’s favorite Christmas, even after she grows up.

This story shares a lot of nice similarities with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s accounts of Christmas in her own prairie home, but with a slightly different perspective. I enjoyed the story, and felt like I learned something from it, too. While I probably can’t use it at too many library programs, because it is solely about Christmas, and it comes from a collection my library does not own, I am considering writing it up as a reader’s theater script for a Catholic school class I work with, where I know all the kids celebrate Christmas, both at home and in school.

I purchased Very Merry Christmas Tales from my local used bookstore.

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.

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