Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1932 (Dear America), by Kathryn Lasky (2001)
Minnie Swift and her family are dealing with the effects of the Great Depression. Set between Thanksgiving and Christmas 1932, this book tells how Minnie’s father seems to be withdrawing from family life, spending more and more time in his room with his typewriter. After losing his job at Greenhandle Scrap Metal, he disappears while the family is out, leaving a note that only her mother has read. Minnie’s cousin Willie Faye has come from Texas to live with them after her own parents die, and her lively personality and ingenuity help Minnie and her family cope through a time that is difficult for everyone.
The Great Depression is a topic that is hard to broach in children’s literature; this book is no exception. Job loss, homelessness, suicide…these are tough topics for any age, and it is particularly difficult to address them in a children’s book and still maintain a positive overall message. Part of this book’s success in doing so is that the story is written as the diary of an eleven-year-old child, so the discussion of these topics is dealt with on a level that a child might understand and with some of the vagueness of a young girl not wanting to think about the horrors around her. I think that the context of the book and the reading level make it (like many of the Dear America series) best for upper elementary and middle school aged readers. In addition to the heavy topics related to the Great Depression, there is some crassness and other potentially touchy material (potty humor from the younger brother, the uninhibited comments of an eleven-year-old in a diary she doesn’t expect anyone else to read) that might be inappropriate for less mature and discriminating readers. Tidbits about life in that time period–from gathering as a family to listen to radio dramas or the news to the expressions and daily experiences of the day–help to set the scene and can get attentive readers interested in the history behind the story but could be distracting and confusing to younger readers. (The American Girls series is probably a gentler way to get younger readers into historical fiction, and each doll has a Christmas story!) Despite the many harsh realities depicted in this book, the story ends well for Minnie’s family–her father returns just in time for Christmas with a steady job as a writer for a radio show, she and her family make do and have enough to help others, and they learn during their times of trouble what family really means.