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Have a Happy...: A Novel about Kwanzaa

Have a Happy...: A Novel about Kwanzaa

by Mildred Pitts Walter, Carole Byard (Illustrator)

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It's Christmas time, and all the kids are talking about the presents they hope to get. It's also Chris's eleventh birthday—which he figures will get lost in the Christmas shuffle as it usually does. And this year, with his father out of work, there probably won't be any Christmas presents either.

But Chris's family also observes another holiday. It's called


It's Christmas time, and all the kids are talking about the presents they hope to get. It's also Chris's eleventh birthday—which he figures will get lost in the Christmas shuffle as it usually does. And this year, with his father out of work, there probably won't be any Christmas presents either.

But Chris's family also observes another holiday. It's called Kwanzaa, a seven-day celebration of African-American heritage. If it weren't for Kwanzaa, Chris might be spending all his time feeling sorry for himself. Instead, he's busy making some very special presents for the holiday celebration— a celebration that puts magic in the air, transforming it into a time of discovery. And Chris and his family are about to find out that with the celebration of a great ancient heritage, they will find a future full of happy surprises.

Author Biography:

Mildred Pitts Walter is one of those rare authors who have mastered both fiction and nonfiction, and who can write as effectively for the picture-book audience as for young adults. Widely admired for her positive, realistic portraits of African-American family life and insightful studies of African-American history and culture, she writes in response to what she once describe in a Publishers Weekly article as "a growing demand from Black parents who are looking for books that provide an authentic portrait of the Black experience written with an understanding that Blackness is more than a mere skin color."

A former kindergarten teacher, Mildred Pitts Walter truly enjoys the company of children and relishes the chance to hear what young people have on their minds during her frequent school and library appearances.

"One thingI always tell young people," she says, "is that I know a lot of people who read and don't write, but I don't know anybody who writes and doesn't read. If you really want to write you should read!"

She often asks her audience what they think a person should do if he or she wants to become a writer. "Look in the want ads?" one precocious kindergartner answered. She gets some difficult questions from her young readers as well. Once, while she was explaining why a good story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end to an elementary school audience, a hand suddenly shot up. "What about the sides?" the student wanted to know. Another time, a fourth-grader asked her, "What did the first writer read?" Mrs. Walter finds these encounters challenging-and grist for the writer's mill.

More grist comes from travel. Mildred Pitts Walter's love of exploration has taken her to western Africa, China, Cuba, Turkey, Europe, and all over the United States. Mrs. Walter is also a dedicated advocate for peace and equality whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. When her book Justin and the Best Biscuits in the World received the Coretta Scott King Award for Literature in 1987, she could not accept the award in person because she was participating in a peace walk from Leningrad (now called St. Petersburg) to Moscow. She has been honored with many other awards, including the 1993 Christopher Award for nonfiction for Mississippi Challenge (Bradbury), and the Parents Choice Award for Literature for Brother to the Wind. In 1996 she was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame. When she is not traveling, Mildred Pitts Walter lives in Denver, Colorado.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
38888 Harper
Product dimensions:
5.79(w) x 8.51(h) x 0.58(d)
Age Range:
8 - 11 Years

Read an Excerpt

They worked with only the crackling of paper and click of rubber bands. Finally Miles asked, 'What you getting for Christmas, Chris?"

"I don't know." The answer came quickly.

"What you mean, don't know? What you want, man?" Jamal asked.

"Nothing for Christmas . . ."

"Nothing!" Miles interrupted.

"I want a bike for my birthday."

"Oh, that's right. You were born on Christmas Day. Christopher Noel Dodd. I always forget." "What's all right. Everybody forgets," Chris said sadly. "But I'll be eleven years old, just like you ~; guys, this Christmas Day."

"It's uncool being born on Christmas Day," Jamal said, and laughed. <>p> "Yeah, nothing cool about it at all." Chris didn't laugh. "Every present is a Christmas and birthday present."

All the papers folded, they began stuffing them into the double basket on the back of Miles's bike. Chris admired the sleek lines of the bicycle. Suddenly he thought about the time. "I forgot. I gotta go. Uncle Ronald is probably at my house right now. I'm making stuff for his Kwanzaa celebration." ' "His what?" Jamal asked. "Kwanzaa," Miles answered. "Don't you know what Kwanzaa is?" "Never heard of it. What is it?" P "A celebration for us Black people," Miles said. "Aw, man. That ain't telling me what it means." "Kwanzaa means first fruit harvest," Chris said. "Like Thanksgiving?" "No-oo, no. Not like that," Chris replied. "Then what is it?" Jamal persisted. "It's a celebration. I gotta go." Chrisgrabbed his packages and started out. "Hey, man, your money." Miles ran after him. "No. It's okay." Chris waved him off. He still didn't want his friends to know he needed the fifty cents. "But I promised. Here, and have a merry Christ mas." Miles pressed the money into his hand. "Don't wish me a merry Christmas. Wish me a happy birthday." "I will—on your birthday." Chris put the two quarters in his pocket and re membered the time when money hadn't seemed that important. He carried his gifts carefully, not want ing to crush the colorful wrappings. Everyone else in his fifth-grade class had made only one gift. But Mrs. Rush, his teacher, had let him make three: a towel rack for his mama, a tie rack for his daddy, and a small dollhouse for Beth, his five-year-old sis ter. Creating things with his hands was what he liked best. The sun lowered, the wind blew colder. Chris hur ried toward home. Trunks of tall trees wrapped with silver, red, and green foil made the walk a shiny lane. He passed brightly decorated houses. One had a Santa in a sleigh pulled by only one prancing rein deer. Chris knew that as soon as night fell his street would glow with lights~ gold and white and all the colors of the rainbow. In other years, a tree had stood in their big win dow, too, glittering a colorful greeting. Maybe we won't be getting a Christmas tree, he thought. Prob ably not, with Daddy spending money looking for a job. His daddy had been out of town a whole week trying to find work. But it was not the tree that was troubling Chris. The haunting unhappiness that he often felt at this season came over him now. December twenty-fifth should be my day, the way December third is Miles's and June twenty-eighth is Jamal's. But no, it's al : ways merry Christmas, Chris! Chris knew he should have picked up Beth long ago. Remembering his uncle, he walked faster. He didn't want Beth to see the gifts, so he went by home first. His uncle had not come. He quickly hid his packages in his room and ran to the baby sitter's house. Beth stood holding her wrapped packages, looking out the window, waiting impatiently. "You late," she scolded. - "How you know I'm late? You can't even tell time." Chris let the sitter know they were leaving. As they started home, he asked, "What's all that you got?" "Presents I made." "What'd you make?" "It's a secret." "Bet I can guess," Chris teased. "Bet you can't." "Let me hold them." Reluctantly she handed him the packages. One felt thin as paper. The other, though smaller, felt heavy. "I know I can guess," he said, "but I'll give you another chance to tell me." "The little one is my hand for Daddy. The other is my picture for Mama." "I knew all along that's what it was," Chris said smugly. "You didn't." Sensing she knew she had been tricked into tell ing, he dodged out of reach as she tried to shove him off the walk and escaped, laughing. "Every kinder gartner makes a clay handprint and a paper silhou ette for Christmas." The sad look on her face made him quickly add, "Mama and Daddy'll like them." "How you know?" "They liked mine. They still have them." The house was cold and no aroma of good things cooking welcomed them. Before, when their daddy had a job, their mama was often home when they came in from school. A nurse, she had worked part time. Now, not only was she on the job full-time, she often stayed overtime. Chris turned on the heat. Then he went into the kitchen with Beth following. He looked into the re frigerator but found nothing tempting. "You hun gry?" "No," Beth answered. "I had some toast and milk. When is Daddy coming home?" "Maybe Sunday." With their jackets still on, they sat in the kitchen, not talking.

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