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.

Banned Books Week: They Banned WHAT?!

Well. . .here we are again. . .>clears throat awkwardly< Okay, fine, since I can FEEL you all glaring at me through your computer screens (or iPads, or whatever), I’ll just say it–I HAVEN’T POSTED IN FOREVER AND I KNOW I REALLY SHOULD HAVE BUT TIME GOT AWAY FROM ME AND I FEEL BAD!! Ahem. Okay, then. Can I get on with it now? Right.

So, I know that I’m really late talking about this, but this week is (drumroll please) Banned Books Week! So rather than blather on with all the same stuff I said last year, I’ve decided to write a bit about some books that have been banned that will probably (hopefully) make you shake your heads and mutter, “Dang idiots.” (The ones that banned the books, not the authors.) But first, a little background. . .

Banned Books Week is a celebration of the right to read. Across the US, many books have been banned (taken out of libraries, schools, etc.), mostly because they’re considered inappropriate for young readers, and are therefore made unavailable. A couple of the more frequent offenders are To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Now, personally, I see the banning of books as unfair and unconstitutional, both to the authors and their readers. And might I also add that some of the boards who ban the book have not read it, and probably don’t know their true merits? Just saying. But some of the books being banned are particularly surprising.

Harry Potter. They really tried to ban Harry Potter. I kid you not. The reason? It encourages kids to believe in Satan, you know, what with all the ghosts and witches and wizards–thank goodness people tried to protect us from this awful influence! They also believe that it sets a bad example for young children, considering all the rule-breaking Harry and his friends do. Because there are so many protagonists out there that are absolute angels.

Next up: The American Heritage Dictionary. Huh? Why would people want to ban something that can be deemed so educational? Well, the thing is, it included entries that were considered “objectionable” and inappropriate. So let’s just ban the whole darn thing! But really, I would think the good outweighs the bad where this is concerned. Why cut off a good and reliable reference for kids just because of some entries?

I, for one, definitely liked this book as a kid. It’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble! (Written by Willliam Steig.) Honestly, I think it’s an enjoyable story for kids, but twelve states objected to its subject matter. More specifically, the part that portrays police as pigs. I can see why they might be offended, but really?

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Wow. I mean. . .just wow. This book is the popular children’s story that is a collaboration between Eric Carle and Billy Martin Jr., and was removed from libraries in Texas by the Texas State Board of Education. The reason was that Billy Martin Jr. happened to have the same name as Marxist theorist who has written a book that is anti-Capitalism. Then–whoops! Wrong person. Luckily, the book was instantly made available again for the public’s enjoyment.

And, finally: The Diary of a Young Girl, the famous record of Anne Frank’s family and their confinement to an annex in Amsterdam during the Holocaust. Now, it isn’t particularly surprising that this book would be banned. The subject content would definitely make some parents prefer not to have their kids read it until they’re older. I respect that, and in some cases, maybe it’s a good idea. But what I don’t agree with is having a book with such valuable insight into World War 2 being made completely unavailable when it has such an important story within it. Anyway, the surprising part of it is that there was an attempt made to ban it because people just considered it “a real downer.” Sigh. That’s all I have to say.

So, anyway, let me finish with this: I understand if a parent wants their child to hold off on reading something because they don’t think they’re old enough. But there is no guarantee that all parents are going to feel this way, so please don’t try to silence an author’s voice when it could prove beneficial (or enjoyable) to someone else. I don’t think anyone has any business doing that. Seriously, bug off.

Phew. So there you go. Now we just have to wait until next year. Oh, and in closing, if you’re feeling all depressed because so many great stories are being banned, click on this link to read some of the authors’ responses to it. I especially liked Ray Bradbury’s.

P.S. Feel free to leave your views on this issue in the comments!