POULSBO — While growing up in Southern Louisiana, Angie Perrin’s Christmases meant presents, Santa Claus, and gumbo simmering on the stove.
Now that she is a Vista/Americorps Rolling Readers representative at Poulsbo Elementary, Perrin has been sharing that Cajun Christmas heritage with students, courtesy of one of her favorite children’s books.
Perrin has read “Cajun Night Before Christmas” to 13 of the 30 elementary classes at Poulsbo Elementary.
While reading it, Perrin gets to make great use of her Cajun accent, which she says is noticeable to Northwest residents but, in the eyes of true Cajuns, has slipped severely.
“I sound Cajun,” she said before a recent reading, “but when I go home they tell me I need to learn how to talk.”
Perrin was always read “Cajun Night Before Christmas” while growing up. She and librarian Nancy Bale discovered that the book was residing in the Poulsbo Elementary library, and an idea was born.
The book takes the familiar skeleton of the Night Before Christmas story, but fills it in with Cajun variations, such as gumbo, Boudreau, and Santa’s sleigh, which in this tale is pulled along by eight plump alligators.
Other teachers had read the story to their students, Perrin said, “but they didn’t have the accent right.”
Perrin recently read the story to Bindi Aujla’s fifth-grade class.
“Are you familiar with what a Cajun is?” She asked the class. “You’re looking at one.”
The class was clearly delighted by the story — Oohing and aahing with Santa’s gator-filled sleigh appeared, and laughing when Santa, sliding down the chimney, landed on the hot coals beneath simmering Cajun food.
The book, written in 1973, portrays Christmas from a long time ago in Louisiana. Perrin occasionally reminded the kids that the state is more modern now — “People in Louisiana have beds now,” she said, pointing to the picture of kids sleeping on the floor.
She occasionally updated or explained details in the book (such as a wily muskrat) and filled in the history, telling the class that her great-grandparents made their own toys.
“This book used to be read to me every Christmas,” she said. “So it’s nice to be able to read it to you all.”
Several students have questions — such as who wrote the book, and when was it published?
Sometimes, Perrin said later, the questions are trickier, such as which Alligator is Rudolph.
“I don’t know,” Perrin replied. “Maybe the alligator with red eyes.”
She said, “The students laugh. They say, ‘That’s not Santa Claus!’ And I say, it’s a different Santa Claus.”
Perrin’s time as Rolling Reader representative ends in July, but her reading of “Cajun Night Before Christmas” will live on. She plans to record a reading of the book for future classes.