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.

Camilla

Okay, confession time: The truth is, I read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, and honestly. . .I don’t remember much. Really. BUT I’ve read another book of her’s recently, Camilla, and I wondered–why is it I’ve never heard of this before? Admittedly, it is definitely geared towards a more mature age group, but it’s still really good! The story focuses on Camilla Dickinson, who lives with her parents in New York City, during the 1950s. As Camilla watches, she sees her parents’ relationship deteriorate further and further, as she learns about life and growing up. But in the midst of this, she becomes acquainted with her best friend’s brother, Frank, and finds herself spending more time with him. With Frank, she learns and thinks about things she never thought of before, not to mention the people she meets. This book is interesting and definitely really well-written, and I enjoyed it. I think teenage girls, particularly those who enjoy classics, will like this book, even if it’s not really in the same vein genre-wise as A Wrinkle In Time.Trust me! (But again, it’s definitely young adult.)

P.S. Colds suck. Anyone want to send me a unicorn as a get well soon present?

P.S.S. Unfortunately, Powell’s Books, the website where I get the images and links for my posts, doesn’t offer this book. You can get it here at Barnes and Noble.

Angel on the Square

I humbly apologize for my laziness and taking-too-longness in posting again. No, seriously. Sorry! (I know some of you may be giving me dirty looks at this point, but I hope you’ll forgive me. . .eventually.) But let’s get down to business. This book, as you can see, is entitled Angel on the Square, by Gloria Whelan. I’ve previously read another one of this author’s books (Chu Ju’s House), so I figured, why not try another one? So I did. The story was every bit as good as I expected. The setting is Russia, in the 1910s, and the main character is Katya Ivanova. Katya lives the life many children in St. Petersburg can only imagine–her mother is an aristocrat, and they live in a large mansion, complete with servants, and always have enough to eat. Katya’s life only becomes more interesting and rich when her mother becomes lady-in-waiting to the Empress Alexandra, and she herself becomes the dear friend of the Empress’s daughters! However, it later becomes apparent that not all is well with the world. War hangs over Russian life like a shadow, and the people are becoming unhappy and thirsty for change. It seems that revolution isn’t very far away, and suddenly life becomes more uncertain than ever before. This book, though very sad, offers a portal into Russian history and how it affected people. Plus, it’s just a really good story, well written, too. If you like this book as much as I did, turn to the sequel, The Impossible Journey, and after that, the third and fourth books as well! This is a rewarding read for someone interested in history, and also for those who aren’t.

Flygirl

Flygirl, by Sherri L. Smith, tells a very unique story. Ida Mae Jones wants to fly. She wants to fly bad. But I guess that proves a little difficult when you’re a black girl living in Louisiana in the 1940s. Actually, it proves very difficult. Ida Mae doesn’t even have a pilot’s license. But she most definitely does not want to just live out her days cleaning houses, even if it is with her best friend, Jolene. So she can’t help but get ideas when her little brother shows her an article about the WASP program: Women Airforce Service Pilots. This is exactly the chance Ida Mae’s been waiting for, the chance to really fly, and to even help her brother, who is overseas fighting WWII. But there is one key obstacle–the WASP won’t accept an African American. Ida can get around that, but it means passing for white, using her light skin to her advantage. Flying is easy, but Ida Mae realizes that turning her back on her heritage and self isn’t.This book not only brings the reader into the character’s struggles, it also shows them the struggles of the WASP itself. Well-written and interesting, Flygirl is a great addition to the book world.