Kirkus Reviews QR Code
JINGLE BELLS by John Harris


How the Holiday Classic Came to Be

by John Harris, illustrated by Adam Gustavson

Age Range: 6 - 9

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56145-590-4
Publisher: Peachtree

Harris offers a fictionalized interpretation of the circumstances surrounding the beloved carol’s composition in Savannah, Ga., in the era just before the Civil War.

The song, originally titled “One Horse Open Sleigh,” was composed by John Pierpont, a music director who worked at the Unitarian church in Savannah. As he explains in an author's note, Harris takes some of the known facts about the composer, rearranges some dates and creates a plot in which Pierpont composes the song for a Thanksgiving service. His daughter, Lillie, and an African-American girl adopted by a member of the church are also main characters, and they use strings of sleigh bells during the song’s performance and join with the other children from the church in tossing bags of feathers at the conclusion to simulate snow. The story begins with a racially based attack on the church (bricks thrown through the church windows because a few church members were African-American) and concludes with the two girls side-by-side performing in solidarity, with the composer’s rousing hope that the song “reaches the whole world.” Pleasant oil paintings in a large format create the appropriate historical milieu for the Southern, pre-Civil War setting and appealing personalities for the two girls.

The author’s artistic license creates a modern fable with a pleasant provenance for the song, but it’s not clear enough that this is fiction. (Picture book. 6-9)