Project Description


Jingle Bells

How the Holiday Classic Came to Be

by John Harris
illustrated by Adam Gustavson

The unexpected story of the creation of a holiday classic―in the most unlikely of places.

It is November 1857 in Savannah, Georgia, and the heat is stifling. Choir director James Lord Pierpont is busy writing a song for the children of the church to perform to usher in the holiday season. He is also worried. Many townspeople are angry because the congregation does not believe in slavery, and someone has thrown a brick through one of the church windows. As Mr. Pierpont sweeps up the glass from the broken window, he recalls his own Boston childhood, and he suddenly gets an idea. A few days later―with singing children, jingling bells, and bags of “snow”―Mr. Pierpont introduces the delighted churchgoers to the charms of a northern Christmas!

In this terrific match of John Harris’s entertaining text and Adam Gustavson’s endearing illustrations, readers learn about the unexpected origins of a Christmas classic that was written during a Savannah heat wave. Harris’s story also includes many interesting connections with Savannah, Unitarians, and freed slaves all playing a role in the story behind the song.

Format: Hardcover
Price: $16.95
ISBN: 978-1-56145-590-4
Publication Date: 10/1/2011
Page Count: 32
Size: 9-1/2″x 11″
Age Range: 6 – 10
Language: English
AR Level: 4.1
F&P: GRL Q, Gr 4, Genre HF
Lexile: AD600L
Themes: Christmas, Homesickness, Prejudice, Song
BISAC 1: JUV017010 JUVENILE FICTION / Holidays & Celebrations / Christmas & Advent
BISAC 2: JUV016140 JUVENILE FICTION / Historical / United States / 19th Century
BISAC 3: JUV019000 JUVENILE FICTION / Humorous Stories


“The oil painting illustrations do right by the story (so much that one wishes it were true), capturing the atmosphere of a community willing to stick together as they journey against the grain, whether that means bringing snow somehow to the South or standing by an unpopular belief.” ―School Library Journal

“Pleasant oil paintings in a large format create the appropriate historical milieu for the Southern, pre-Civil War setting and appealing personalities for the two girls…” ―Kirkus Reviews

“Sure to be popular at holiday time, this is a fictionalized account of how a Unitarian choir director happened to write one of our more ubiquitous winter holiday songs… Although this is a small event, lush oil illustrations with the characters’ expressions featured prominently give the whole affair an air of significance…A fascinating, unusual bit of historical fiction.”Booklist

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“Gustavson’s period oil paintings are impressively realistic and emotive, effectively capturing the minister’s passion.” ―Publishers Weekly

“Gustavson’s accomplished paintings, realistic yet folksy, reveal small dramas not in the text, and each face in the choir and congregation seems to hide an entire character study…” ―The Horn Book Magazine

“’Jingle Bells’ by John Harris tells again of the power of reminiscence and memories. Good reading.” ―Hickory Ridge Reader

“John Harris’s charming fictional account of the true story behind the song “Jingle Bells” harmonizes perfectly with Adam Gustavson’s lively illustrations.”Sunday Morning Magazine

“The holidays beg for books that can be read aloud and enjoyed by the whole family, from tot to grandparent. With its painterly illustrations and well-paced story, Jingle Bells is one of those books… Knowing the song’s backstory deepens one’s appreciation for this classic.” ―Washington Parent

“John Harris expands the little that is known about how “Jingle Bells” was composed with an interesting backstory of the Unitarian Church’s stand against slavery. Oil paintings by Adam Gustavson capture the essence of life in the 1850s.” ―The Wichita Eagle

“Author John Harris explains in an imaginative and believable way of how he came up with the fictional account of the writing of “Jingle Bells.” The lively illustrations by Adam Gustavson fit well with the upbeat music of the beloved song. I love holiday books that make reading aloud fun. This book does just that. Recommended holiday read for anybody who loves the Christmas classic, “Jingle Bells.”” ―Boys to Books

“Illustrator Adam Gustavson’s lively images enhance this charming book, a great read-aloud for the holiday season, especially for elementary school classes learning to sing this classic tune!” ―The Fourth Musketeer

“Overall this is a story of nostalgia and celebration.” ―Interesting Nonfiction for Kids

“I really enjoyed the story. It was a quick and easy read with a cute ending…I will definitely have this book in my classroom library.” ―Maestra Amanda’s Bookshelf

“I’m so glad I was granted a copy because really…haven’t YOU ever wondered where some of our favorite carols came from? I have…” ―Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

“A perfect addition to both multicultural studies and holiday collections, children will be stirred when they hear the story of the creation of the song ‘Jingle Bells’…” ―Lake Hiawatha Library

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Society of School Librarians International Book Awards (Honor Book, Language Arts, Grades K-6 Picture Books) ―Society of School Librarians International, 2012

Kansas State Reading Circle Recommended Reading List (Intermediate) ―Kansas National Education Association, 2012

Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award ―Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, 2011

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Meet the Author

John Harris has written a number of books for children, including several historical fiction books, He lives in Georgia.

Meet the Illustrator

Adam Gustavson is the illustrator of more than twenty books for children, as well as numerous periodicals. He holds a master of fine arts degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York, and teaches at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He lives in New Jersey. You can visit his website here.