By Kevin Williams
I was at a used book sale over the summer and,of course, my eye gravitated towards one title buried in the stacks....it was called "An Amish Christmas" by Richard Ammon. In doing a little digging, Richard Ammon is a professor of children's literature and an associate professor at Penn State's Harrisburg campus. Ammon is not a common name within the Amish church, although it is the name of the church's founder: Jacob Ammon., So I'm guessing that professor Ammon has some sort of family or historical connection to the Amish church which inspired him to write "An Amish Christmas" and some other Amish titles. Anyway, I bought the book for a buck during the dog days of summer and vowed to read it to Aster during the holiday season. I almost forgot about the book until it popped into my mind last night for some reason. So I gathered Aster and Bea onto my lap and prepared to read them "An Amish Christmas."
SIGH, here are my observations:
A) I am going to assume that the book is rooted in research and first-hand experience. The Amish have varying traditions from community to community, church to church. So what may be familiar to one person is foreign to another. For instance, the references in the book to "Second Day of Christmas" celebrations just didn't connect with me. I've met plenty of Amish who observe "Old Christmas" on January 6 after the 12 days of Christmas are over,but the second day? I'm sure that is the case in this author's experience, but definitely not mine. I'm getting the idea that the book is supposed to be set in Lancaster County based on the author's locale and his reference to "gray buggies" in the book. The Amish buggies in Lancaster are almost always gray.
B) The book is a delightful glimpse into an Amish school and an Amish child's life. I think most of the depictions are pretty realistic. Again, though, if you are familiar with the Amish you might read it and say "hey, that doesn't sound right!", but the author's depictions may well be spot-on in the communities he has visited.
C) You know, this book might just be best saved for 4 and 5-year-olds and older. I guess it just depends on your kid. I do read to Aster a lot and she is generally great about listening to a whole book. I often take her to the library and read a stack of books, but in her room surrounded by tempting toys, a book often can't compete, and so it was last night. The book is 40 pages and by about page 25, I was losing Aster. The author sprinkles in some Pennsylvania Dutch for effect and it's a nice touch, but someone just a smidge older might appreciate it more than Aster did. Baby Bea, on the other hand, seemed rapt with the whole story. I think if I read it again to Aster a year from now, she'd be much more engaged in the story.
D) The illustrations in the book are super, it was really nice to have those for Aster to reference and tie into the story as I read it.
Definitely a book I'd recommend for children interested in the Amish or other cultures. I'd say for kids 4 and up. I did find some copies on Amazon, sheesh, some in seemingly really good shape for $1. Check out the book here.