Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons

Happy (late) New Year! Here, 2014 is being kicked off with the book Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons: The Story of Phillis Wheatley, by the talented Ann Rinaldi.

Phillis Wheatley, as many of you probably know, was a young girl brought over from Senegal, Africa, in the 18th century. Bought by the Wheatley family in Boston, Massachusetts, Phillis works for the Wheatley’s daughter, Mary, as her personal slave–until it is discovered that she can read.

After that, Mary’s brother Nathaniel begins to tutor Phillis, teaching her Latin and Greek and helping her to improve her reading.

And then she writes a poem. And things really change.

Soon, Phillis is reciting for the Wheatleys’ dinner guests, visiting various bookstores and printers throughout Boston, and is even sent to London. (All against the backdrop of the colonists’ growing discontent with British rule.) She meets a string of well-drawn characters, from Aunt Cumsee and Prince, fellow slaves, to Benjamin Franklin.

I love this book. So much. I haven’t read historical fiction in a fairly long time, and this was definitely a good one to go with. It pulls you in and won’t let you go, and I really loved Phillis’s voice as the narrator. She’s honest, telling the reader her thoughts as a new arrival in America, an ocean in between her and her past home and freedom. At one point she says, “It seems you are not permitted to murder a slave woman. Not even in America.”

Ann Rinaldi definitely paints a convincing picture of Phillis’s life, from childhood to being an adult. The story of her voyage on the slave ship is shown in all its unimaginable brutality, and her struggles with freedom and the desire for it are drawn really well. The author doesn’t gloss over Phillis’s struggles, and the way she writes is addictive.

It might make you cry. It will give you lots of feelings. It’s really amazing.

Phillis is a great character, and I loved the complexity with which Rinaldi details her struggles and conflicts: Should she want freedom? If free, how would she be able to survive? Would it be better if she just stayed with the Wheatleys?

Really, do the Wheatleys even value her as a human being?

Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons is definitely one of my favorite historical fiction novels of all time, and I definitely recommend it. It has happiness, sadness, big questions, and great characters. And, of course, poetry.

Literary Quote of the Day: “I could scarce contain my own excitement. The more I wrote, the more excited I became. I felt like Columbus must have felt when he just discovered America. Only the land that I had sighted was myself. In a way, my own way, I was free.” —Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons, by Ann Rinaldi

P.S. Some other great books by Ann Rinaldi are A Break With Charity: A Story About the Salem Witch Trials and Brooklyn Rose.

Monster

Hello all. So I had been meaning to read a book by Walter Dean Myers for a while, but I really wanted to after I saw him at the National Book Festival last year. He was definitely interesting to listen to, and his book sounded equally intriguing. So I got one from the library. The book in question is Monster, the story of teenage Steve Harmon, whose life may be a tad different from yours. He’s in jail.

The book tells the story of how he ended up there, as well as what’s it like for Steve, being on trial for murder and all. For me, it was kind of like Night, by Elie Wiesel, in that it offered an up-close and personal look at what it’s like for a kid going through an awful and striking experience, the kind of look that sort of smacks you in the face and makes you think, “Wow.” Myers really succeeds in making his story seem real, which is one of the best things about it. The book is also written in a unique format. It’s a mash-up of Steve’s journal entries and the script for a movie he’s writing, to help him cope with what he’s going through. At first, I was worried that this would take away from the enjoyment of the book, but it didn’t; it was actually pretty interesting. The plot is gripping, especially since Myers continuously holds off on letting the reader know if Steve is actually guilty or not. The characters are just as well-written and interesting, and Myers definitely manages to make Steve, a suspected criminal, a human being, despite the prosecutor’s assessment of him–that he’s a monster. One of the other things I liked about the book was that it offered a look at life in and relating to the courtroom that was pretty new for me, which only makes the book better. All in all, I would definitely suggest you read Monster. It’s an important book, and it deserves it.

Literary Quote of the Day: “When you’re young, you make mistakes. The big thing that’s different now is that when I was a kid, you could survive your mistakes. We didn’t have guns. Today, kids have access to guns. The same kids that would have been in trouble and gotten a stern talking-to are now going to jail for fifteen or twenty years. Instead of bloody noses there are bodies lying in the street with chalk outlines around them. The values are basically the same, but it’s easier to mess up.” –Walter Dean Myers