Saturday, March 21, 2009

Annie Christmas

Annie Christmas
told by Virginia Hamilton

illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon

My Rating: 5 out of 5

Genre: African American Folktale

Annie Christmas is an African American Folktale, published in Her Stories: African American Folktales, Fairy Tales and True Tales. Annie Christmas is a familiar figure in the state of Louisiana. She is larger than life, described as being coal black and tree tall, standing seven feet barefoot and weighing 299 pounds - the biggest woman in the state of Louisiana. She is a keel boat operator on the Mississippi and is as mean as they come.

This story begins with Annie and her friends enjoying a girls' night on the river, and ends with the broken heart of Annie Christmas herself. She falls in love with the captain of a paddle boat, and when she asks for a hug - she is rudely rejected. Angry and broken-hearted, Annie curses the captain, goes back out on the river and throws herself overboard.
Annie was never heard or seen again. Consequently, neither was the captain of the paddle boat, but it is said he haunts the Mississippi River. To this day, you can hear him cursing the bad weather on nights full of rain and darkness. As for Annie, it is said that her sons found her body washed up on shore. Her sons boarded the barge with their mother in a coffin and vanished from sight forever. It is said Annie Christmas is still on the Mississippi River. The black barge emerges from the mist, with her twelve sons aboard and Annie is sitting atop her wooden grave, singing a river tune to the thundering sky.

I would recommend this story, along with the book it is published within, for fourth and fifth grade classrooms for the study of folktales and multicultural literature. Virginia Hamilton is a wonderful author, having won many awards for her literary work. The illustrations are beautiful and add so much depth to the stories. Annie Christmas is a wonderful example of an African American folktale, and demonstrates how the same character is seen across cultures. Students can compare and contrast the African American version of Annie Christmas with those of other cultures, the Irish version, for example. Overall, I think this collection would be a wonderful addition to any classroom library.

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