Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk. The Christmas Coat: Memories of my Sioux Childhood. Illustrated by Ellen Beier. New York: Holiday House, 2011. ISBN 9780823421343
The Christmas Coat tells the story of Virginia, one can guess by the subtitle that this is most likely the author, one Christmas. A few things are spelled out for the reader, Eddie needs boots, Virginia needs a coat, and, as subtly noted by one sentence, they live on a reservation. In fact, these subtle explanations continue through the short book.
For many readers, the more noticeable nod to the Sioux is on the cover, where three boys wear feathered headdresses. However, up until the page where these boys actually appear, everyone wears sensible clothes (with the exception of one coveted fur coat). When the boys (who are playing the Wise Men in the Christmas pageant) do appear, the text states that “only the wise leaders and elders of the tribe could wear” the headdresses. In addition, there are things like dolls in traditional dress and the complexion and hairstyles of the people.
The Christmas Coat shows real life rather than what everyone supposes real life on a reservation must be like. It is a gentle nudge that reminds people that the Native American of Hollywood and the various Native American tribes in reality are very different. It could be used as a springboard for a research project into Christmas celebrations, life on a reservation, or the Sioux people. It could also be an incentive for older students to write a compare and contrast essay between how Native Americans truly live and how the movies portray them.
Choices -2012 (Cooperative Children’s Book Center)
Kirkus Starred Review—“ The story unfolds in a linear, matter-of-fact way reminiscent of the writing of Laura Ingalls Wilder, with school and family scenes and a strong sense of the main character’s emotions and family ties. Realistic illustrations in watercolor and gouache capture the snowy, flat landscape, the simple schoolroom and the crowd of children each experiencing something different at the holiday events. Virginia’s personality shines through in this poignant story that entertains and informs without recourse to stereotypes.”
Kutztown University Book Review—“ Virginia, the author, tells of her early years on the South Dakota prairie when her father headed a congregation among the Sioux. Virginia needed a new winter coat and held hopes that the “theast boxes” from the East would contain a used red coat to kept her warm during the cold winter months. As the daughter of the Episcopal priest, she had to wait while the members of the congregation’s needs were filled before she was allowed to choose something for herself.”
Cardenuto, Nancy E.. Kutztown University Book Review. Spring 2012. Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=0&isbn=9780823421343
Kirkus. Kirkus Reviews. September 2011. (Vol. 79, No. 17). Accessed via CLCD at http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/jbookdetail/jqbookdetail?page=1&pos=0&isbn=9780823421343