Author: Phil Mendez
Illustrator: Carole Byard
Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks
Audience: ages 8+
Summary: Christmas stories don’t usually begin in the grasslands of Africa with an old man preparing to tell the stories of his people, aided by his magic kente cloth. The storytelling session is interrupted by the arrival of slave traders. The people are sold into slavery in a far-away country called America, and the kente is sold, too. The scene shifts to a modern city just before Christmas. Jacob is angry. He hates being black; he hates being poor. Reluctantly he helps his Peewee, younger brother, build a snowman using the dirty snow found in a back alley. Peewee finds an old rag to drape around the snowman. The rag is the remains of the storyteller’s kente. The snowman comes to life. The snowman tells Jacob tales of his African ancestors. With these ancestors as guides, Jacob is able to save his brother from a burning building.
The Black Snowman is not the usual picture book. The length and complexity of the story makes it more appropriate for older elementary-aged children rather than the younger audience usually targeted by picture books. This book could be used for all children looking for a sense of their own identity.
Literary Elements at work in the story: The theme of this picture book is each person has strengths that can serve as a foundation for positive self-esteem. While life may be unfair and people differ in circumstances, each can find elements on which to draw for positive reinforcement. Often, remembering our history will give us a sense of our worth.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economic/ability: All of the characters are African-Americans, and the main characters (Jacob, Peewee, the snowman—even the old storyteller) are male. Jacob and his family live in the inner-city. In spite of the negative aspects of his life (being black and poor), Jacob learned that he had much of which to be proud.
Scripture: Hebrews 12:1-2, Psalm 78:1-4, Deuteronomy 6:20-21, Joshua 4:6-7
Theology: Remembering the past and how God has worked and continues to work. Testimony of the “cloud of witnesses”.
Faith Talk Questions:
- What are stories of your family’s past that you can share with your children/grandchildren? What do these stories tell of faith, perseverance, strength in the face of difficulties, etc.? You may want to use concrete objects, such as items handed down in the family, to help prompt memories.
- Adopted/foster children often feel disconnected to their family’s past. Even when it is impossible to provide them with stories of their own ancestors, reinforce that we are all members of the family of God. The stories of one become the stories of us all. (Romans 8:16-17 – It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ– if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. ” Galatians 3:26 – “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”)
- Name something that another child does well. (We often do not recognize our own strengths. Someone else can identify them for us.)
- Who are your heroes. How can they help you?
Review prepared by 2008 Union-PSCE graduate Mary Anne Welch
The Black Snowman by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.