Mama Had to Work on Christmas

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Mama Had to Work on Christmas Book Poster Image
Gently opens children's eyes to class differences.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this book explores class differences in a matter-of-fact way. The protagonist at first is angry with her situation, but comes to appreciate how much she has.

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What's the story?

Gloria's mother tends to the women's bathroom at an upscale hotel, and has to work on Christmas. Since her father is also away from home as a migrant laborer, Gloria has to go with her mother and stay in the kitchen at the hotel while her mother works.

There she is confronted for the first time with luxury, wealth, and all that her family doesn't have, revelations made worse when a well-meaning child offers Gloria her own Christmas present because her family has told her that "we should give to the have-nots."

Is it any good?

What could have been a soppy, melodramatic, didactic diatribe is instead, in Carolyn Marsden's simple, matter-of-fact telling, clear, poignant, and involving. It gently opens children's eyes to the idea of class differences, demonizes no one (even the girl who offers Gloria her doll is friendly and means well), and offers no simplistic solutions.

Instead it reminds Gloria, and readers, of what she already has, but for a while was too angry to see -- the love of family. By the end of the book the contrast of the grand and gorgeous hotel with Gloria's Christmas night in a shack with her mother and grandmother seems to favor the warmth of the shack, lit by candles and filled with the smell of her grandmother's cooking. This age-appropriate introduction to a difficult subject still manages to be a warm holiday story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about people who work on holidays. Why do they need to work? What do you enjoy doing around the holidays that depends on people giving up time at home with their families? How can you show your appreciation for their sacrifice?

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