Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Christmas After All: The Great Depression Dairy of Minnie Swift

Christmas After All: The Great Depression Dairy of Minnie Swift

Kathryn Lasky
Historical Fiction  Series
For ages 12 to and up
Scholastic, 2001   ISBN: 978-0439219433

Minnie is seriously beginning to doubt that her family is going to have much of a Christmas. Life is so hard with the Depression touching almost every aspect of their lives. First, and perhaps hardest of all, is the fact that "Daddy" is depressed all the time. He spends most of his free time typing away at something in the attic room, and he seems to have more and more free time as his place of work has less and less for him to do.

Of course there is little money to go around, and certainly not enough to buy much in the way of presents. The food that they are eating isn’t much of a pleasure to eat either. There is less and less meat and more and more "au gratin" dishes which are made to spread further and further.

All in all it is a very dreary time and then something quite extraordinary happens. A distant family relative is orphaned and is sent to Minnie’s parents because there is no where else for her to go. Thus it is that dusty, tiny little Willie Faye joins the family. At first all Minnie can do is be amazed at the things that Willie Faye hasn’t experienced and doesn’t know. The girl has never seen real indoor plumbing and a bath with taps. She also isn’t quite where she should be in her school learning and has some catching up to do. Minnie quite frankly isn’t sure what to do with the petite person who has entered their lives.

Then, as Christmas approaches, Minnie discovers that Willie has many hidden gifts. She tells the most wonderful stories; true stories which reveal that she has seen and done things that quite frankly boggle the mind. A refugee of the Dust Bowl of Texas Willie has seen things that no child should see and is, in some ways older, than her years because of it. Willie also teaches the girls in the Swift household how to make do with what they have when it comes to giving gifts for Christmas. If gifts cannot be bought then they must be made, and that is just what the girls do.

Finally and most importantly Willie teaches Minnie to have faith that things are going to get better. When Minnie’s father suddenly disappears, it is Willie who encourages Minnie to believe that her father will be returning and that he has not abandoned his family.

This is a very moving, and at times funny, story which is made all the more powerful because it is based on the life of the author’s own family. We are taken inside the Swift’s home, listening to their favourite radio programs with them, going to the movies with them, and fearing for the future with them. Minnie is a highly likeable girl with her funny sayings and her dislike of "au gratin" dishes and aspic. She is also a girl who is able to give credit where credit is due and who is able to listen and learn from others. Minnie’s story is perhaps Kathryn Lasky’s most delightful, and most personal, "Dear America" story to date.