Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mama's Wreaths

By Julia Taylor Ebel with M. Joann Moretz

Published by Canterbury House, $10.95,

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

            This enchanting story poem is a loving tribute to the knowledge, traditions, and stories that richly infuse the North Carolina Mountain culture.

            Using the character of Joanie, a young mountain girl who wants nothing more than to make Christmas wreaths as beautiful as her mother’s, Julia Taylor Ebel guides us through the autumn and early winter seasons of a people who value character above wealth.

Ruled by the “I’ll be beholden to nobody” attitude that she learned from her daddy, Joanie will not rest until she can pay back the nickel (milk money) that her teacher gave her to replace the one that she lost. Particularly moving is the Lost episode in which Joanie, given the responsibility of delivering one of her mother’s wreaths, loses the money that she collected for it. Her resulting distress is caused by her knowledge that the lost money was to have been used for necessaries: flour, sugar, and shoes. When she finds the money, she experiences not only relief, but true joy:
not joy about the money
but joy about a job seen through,
about a trust kept,
about the smile I expect
on Mama's face
Making Christmas wreaths, we learn, requires skill, teamwork, and sacrifice. Listening to instructions is essential. Joanie hangs her own wreaths around her home, declaring that:
We may not have much money
 to spend for Christmas,
 but this is a Christmas house.
            Ebel credits Joann Moretz, who shared her memories of making wreaths in Watauga County, North Carolina, as her information source for this book. As a native Appalachian, I particularly appreciated Ebel’s simple black and white illustrations, which took me back to a time when life moved at a slower pace and Christmas was magic.  No expensive presents required: family and friends sharing the holiday spirit was the ultimate and most sought-after prize
          After the story’s end, Ebel adds information about the history of wreath making in the North Carolina Mountains and instructions on how you can make your own evergreen wreath. A study guide and book discussion starters are available on Ebel’s website.
            This book, recommended for ages eight through adult, would make a wonderful Christmas present for both young and old.  The young will delight in the intimate peek at a culture often taken for granted.  Adults will garner sweet memories of a time when Christmas was neither rushed nor expensive.  The book is one that children and adults can read together and equally appreciate. What better way to spend precious time and revel in the Christmas spirit?

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