Harris offers a fictionalized story about the genesis of this carol. The song’s author, James L. Pierpont, likely wrote it while working as a minister in Savannah, Ga. The author sets the book during a “sweltering” November in the 1850s; in an early scene that gives the story additional historical depth, Pierpont explains to his daughter that a brick hurled through their church window was likely done because the congregation includes four former slaves. The heat inspires Pierpont to write the song, which is performed by a children’s choir at a concert. Gustavson’s period oil paintings are impressively realistic and emotive, effectively capturing the minister’s passion. Ages 6�10. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Mary Quattlebaum
The holidays beg for books that can be read aloud and enjoyed by the whole family, from tot to grandparent. With its painterly illustrations and well-paced story, Jingle Bells is one of those books. It tells how the world-renowned song came to be composed, one hot November in Savannah, Georgia. James Lord Pierpont, a musical director, was trying to write the new song expected annually by his Unitarian Church. In this time right before the Civil War, many Southern churches did not allow slaves and free blacks to worship with white peoplebut the Unitarian Church did and was sometimes attacked for doing so. Pierpont's daughter Lilly and her friend Esther, a freed slave, introduce the song during the church concert by shaking strands of bells in imitation of the song's one-horse open sleigh and tossing snow-like white feathers. Knowing the song's backstory deepens one's appreciation for this classic. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum
School Library Journal
Gr 1�3—Harris takes the popular claim of when and where "Jingle Bells" was written and adds imagined events. The fact that composer James Lord Pierpont was the music director of a Unitarian church in pre-Civil War Savannah becomes the inspiration for beginning the story—a brick thrown through a window because of the congregation's stance against slavery. As Pierpont and his daughter clean up the glass and he feels the hot November air, he realizes that she has never experienced a snowy winter or been on a sleigh. Further lyrics come from snippets of conversation and the drive to uplift the parishioners' spirits. The oil painting illustrations do right by the story (so much that one wishes it were true), capturing the atmosphere of a community willing to stick together as they journey against the grain, whether that means bringing snow somehow to the South or standing by an unpopular belief.—Joanna K. Fabicon, Los Angeles Public Library
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)