Christmas After All Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
Thinking About the Book
In Christmas After All, it's the day after Thanksgiving in 1932, the middle of The Great Depression, and twelve-year-old Minnie Swift wonders what kind of Christmas her family will have this year. Money and jobs are scarce, meat is hardly ever served at mealtime, and Papa seems more worried each day. But the Swifts are more fortunate than many others, and when they learn that an orphaned cousin, Willie Faye Darling, will come to live with them in their home, they are quick to rearrange the beds to make room for her. Minnie, thrilled to have another youngster in the home, is also resolved to make this Christmas memorable in spite of the hard times. Her diary, spanning one hardscrabble Christmas month, describes the sadness of the day as well as the unflagging creativity and optimism of a midwestern family.
This story affirms the toughness and fortitude of the American spirit as well as the magic of Christmas — a message that is timeless.
Themes: Loss, poverty, perseverance, compassion, imaginativeness, creativity.
- Minnie helps Willie Faye bathe and then is shocked to find out that she has no more belongings than she does: two pairs of underpants, one pair of socks, two undershirts, the dress she was wearing, a sweater, a coat, a cigar box full of colored pencils, a little book to draw in, and a picture from a newspaper. Do you think Willie Faye feels sorry for herself? Why do you think so, or why do you think not? Imagine these were your only possessions. How does this make you feel? If you could pack only one small suitcase for a year living away from home, what would you pack?
- The Swift family would gather in front of the radio for "Charlie Chan" or "Buck Rogers." The children often go to the picture shows, Mama belongs to a literary club, and everyone loves Dick Tracy in the funny papers. What was the role of entertainment during the Great Depression? Why was it so important? Does entertainment play the same role for us today?
- Willie Faye has never heard of an adjective or a porcelain bathtub or Dick Tracy, and yet Minnie thinks she is a very interesting person. What is so appealing about Willie Faye to Minnie? Why do you think Minnie says Willie Faye is very "real"? What is Minnie learning from Willie Faye?
- Everyone in the family is a mess after they learn Mr. Otis has killed himself. Willie Faye won’t speak or eat. Mama sits in the dark talking to Gwen. Minnie writes that Lady’s reaction to the sorrowful event is quite different from everyone else’s. What does Lady do? Do you think it’s wrong for her to behave this way? How do Willie Faye, Ozzie, and Minnie respond to Lady? Do you think it’s okay for people to respond differently to tragic events?
- Willie Faye tells Minnie that being in the Swift home is "just as good as the movies." She is amused by all their talk about Kate Smith’s hairdo and Clark Gable’s dimples. But what else do you think Willie Faye is learning from the Swifts?
- Once when Minnie’s mother was very happy she gave Papa a big hug and kiss right in front of the kids. Minnie said that "usually I just hate it when they hug and kiss each other in front of us kids." Why do you think Minnie usually feels this way? Have you ever felt the same way yourself? Why was this instance different for Minnie?
- One of Willie Faye’s prize possessions was a newspaper picture of her standing next to a huge pumpkin with the caption, "Littlest Girl Grows Biggest Pumpkin." What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?
- Lady is flunking Latin and "not doing so hot in trigonometry," and yet Minnie says she is a kind of genius. What does she mean by that? How would you describe Lady’s talent? What effect does it have on other members of the family?
- Twice in this story Minnie begins to snicker over the thought of "bosoms," once as she is in rehearsal for the Christmas pageant and again, inexplicably, when she and her mother go to bring a hot meal over to Bernadette Otis’s house. Do you think there’s a difference between these two incidents? Have you ever felt like laughing at a really inappropriate time? Why do you think this happens?
- Since there is no money, Minnie says this is a Christmas that needs magic. If she had magic, she would reopen the auto plant to make Papa happy and get Lady’s hair to grow back. She’d find a handsome beau for Clem and get a magic carpet to fly Gwen to Paris so she could learn to write about more interesting foods than aspic. If you had magic powers, what magic would you work for the members of your own family?
- The trip to deliver cookies to the shantytown known as Curtisville Bottom is unforgettable for Minnie. What does she realize after going there?
- The Great Depression was hard on everyone, but perhaps especially hard on the fathers who felt responsible for supporting their families. Papa kept to his room mysteriously, typing or working away on the adding machine. Do you think he should have told the rest of the family what he was doing?
- What does Willie Faye mean when she says this to Minnie: "You try too hard to understand. Your whole family does. They are just so filled up with ideas and words. It’s wonderful but sometimes it just doesn’t work."? Do you believe in things you can’t see or understand?
- Ozzie is a scientist who knows and understands a lot of facts. But what does he do when faced with the uncertainty of where Papa is?
- Minnie has great admiration for Amelia Earhart. Who are your own role models? What kind of person inspires you?
- POMANDER BALLS: Use cloves and oranges to make pomander balls as autumn or Christmas decorations. Stick the cloves into the orange in a spiral pattern like Willie Faye did. Arrange the pomander balls in a bowl as a centerpiece or line the mantlepiece with them and a bough of holly.
- SONG: Find and listen to a Kate Smith recording of "O Holy Night," the song Papa had playing on the radio when the family gets home on Christmas Eve.
- DECOUPAGE: Use scraps of decorative paper and colorful pictures from magazines to make a treasure box. With a clear-drying glue, glue the collage of pictures onto a cardboard or wooden box, then use a polyurethane shellac from the craft store to paint a shiny finish over the collage. Give the box to someone you love.
- SCRAPBOOK: Clem’s Christmas present for Minnie was a scrapbook of Amelia Earhart. Use pictures from magazines or printed from the Internet, along with newspaper stories to make your own scrapbook of a contemporary hero or heroine.
- JOY OF COOKING: Gwen’s employer, Bobbs-Merrill, was the original publisher of one of the best-selling books of all time, The Joy of Cooking. Find a copy of The Joy of Cooking and prepare one of the recipes with your mom or dad. Try potatoes au gratin or chicken à la king, which was Minnie’s favorite dish from Ayres’ tea room. Find out if recent editions of The Joy of Cooking still include recipes for aspic.
- JACKS: Jacks and tiddleywinks were two popular, Depression-era games. Learn how to play one or both of these games with a friend.
- BOOTH TARKINGTON: Check out one of Booth Tarkington’s novels of life in small midwestern towns. Most famous is The Magnificent Ambersons, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1918.
- CRYSTAL RADIO: Ask your teacher or your mom or dad to help you search for instructions on how to build a cigar box crystal radio set. As a science project, or just for fun, build your own crystal radio just like Ozzie did.
- STAR PICTURES: Research constellations and then get together with a couple of friends on a clear winter night to see if you can find any of them in the night sky. See if you can borrow a telescope from your school’s science department, or better yet, ask your science teacher to do this project with you.
- GINGER COOKIE ORNAMENTS: Prepare ginger cookie batter following a simple recipe you find in a cookbook. Make a hole in the center of each cookie and fill with crushed hard candies. When the cookies bake, the hard candy makes a colorful "stained glass window" in the heart of each cookie. Use as ornaments on your Christmas tree or wreath.
Discussion guide written by Shireen Dodson, author of The Mother-Daughter Book Club and 100 Books for Girls to Grow On. Ms Dodson lives in Washington, D.C., and is a founding member of two long-running mother-daughter book clubs with daughters, Morgan and Skylar.