“Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West” by Candace Fleming

Buffalo Bill, born in Iowa as William Frederick Cody in the mid-1800s was a showman who 25689028would create the perceptions that persist today as the American West. The Codys and their seven children moved west to lawless Kansas. Several children died. Will’s father, Isaac, was hunted by pro-slavery men who vowed to kill him because they mistakenly thought he was an abolitionist. Even before Isaac died, when Will was nine, he scouted the frontier to earn money to support his family.

 

Author Candace Fleming begins each chapter with an act from what would become Bill Cody’s Wild West show in “Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West” (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook 2016). Employing hundreds of Indians, cowboys, with horses, deer, and buffalo, Will Cody (Buffalo Bill) toured the U.S. and Europe, performing immense outdoor programs for millions, including Queen Victoria. His troupe would pitch camp over multiple acres and the audience could visit the cabins and tipis to see how people of the American west lived. Indian women who accompanied their men could sell their beadwork and moccasins.

 

Bill claimed that each “act” came from his own life—a Pony Express Rider, Scalping Indians, Riding with Wild Bill Hickok. Were his stories truthful? Some were. Fleming gives us sidebars headed “Panning for the Truth,” explaining how she divided truth from fiction. For instance, when Cody claimed to ride with Bill Hickok out west, Hickok was living in Vermont. However, the account of Cody’s sister, Julia, is corroborated by historic documents, so hers is deemed accurate overall.

 

With all his braggadocio, it’s not always easy to like Buffalo Bill Cody. Scalping Indians? He probably did scalp one man—Yellow Hair. But Cody was also an admirer of Indians. When the U.S. Army asked him to bring in his friend Sitting Bull, who the U.S. Army saw as a threat, he agreed. Against logic, you want him to set Sitting Bull free. But it was too late. Another army official who had a personal grudge against the chief got there first and killed Sitting Bull in a blood bath. Buffalo Bill would have been the better liaison in this matter.

 

Being in favor of the Indian overall, I feel that Fleming gives Native Americans a fair shake. She describes how the U.S. government went back on its word repeatedly—tragically—all to destroy the Indian population and culture. And what about Bill? An argument contemporary to the time said he should have left the Indians on the reservation. Was he exploiting Native Americans? Fleming shows that Indians of many nations loved Buffalo Bill. He paid them 100 times more than they would have received on the reservation where they were starving. Those who were lucky enough to travel with the show lived their culture in small ways on the road and were not pressed to assimilate into white European culture.

 

This is too simple a description. I urge you to read the book.

 

 

Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker. Her young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia releases in January 2017. talesforallages.com

Facebook Twitter Email
Posted in Book Reviews

First “Loving vs. Virginia” Give Away Winner

lovingvsvirginacoverThank you everyone for signing up for the blog and commenting so you might win my book, Loving vs. Virginia. Remember, you have to comment to get a book, so that I will know if you want one. So, if you haven’t left a comment, and you want a book, you can comment on this post.

img_3916Here is the first of three drawings. If you have signed up and already left a comment you are eligible for two more drawings–one before Thanksgiving, one before Christmas. The book officially releases January 31, 2017. Feel free to pass this on to anyone else. Yep, that would statistically lessen your chances, but you’re spreading . . . good news.p-draw-1

And the Halloween Give Away goes to . . . [drum roll] DEB ARONSON! Congratulations, Deb. Deb lives right in the adjoining town. Urbana to my Champaign. Let’s have lunch together somewhere and I can just sign and hand it to you, Deb. I’m delighted that you won.

p-draw-2Other news: For those from or near Champaign Urbana, The Art Theater will show the acclaimed new movie Loving (about the Loving v Virginia case) on Wednesday, November 23, the day before Thanksgiving. So take a break from stuffing the turkey and come on out. Don’t know the times, yet. If you miss that one, come see the movie Tuesday, November 29 I’ll speak about the Lovings, maybe the case, maybe the book, on the next Tuesday, November 29, following the showing of Loving also at the Art Theater.

Next week I’ll post an article to tell a little about the research I did for Loving vs. Virginia.

Facebook Twitter Email
Posted in Book News, Book Reviews

“Another Brooklyn” by Jacqueline Woodson

Last year Jacqueline Woodson won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, for 27213163her memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming. Her newest book, Another Brooklyn (Amistad/Harper 2016) is published and marketed as an adult book. This novel about four black girls growing up in the 70s—four fast friends—shows joy, hardship, and great love among the characters.

 

Clearly it is an adult book, but being about young people, why is that? Much “young adult” literature is chock full of violence, sex, and other topics that are taboo to middle grade readers (for the most part). But certain ideas fall in the realm of adult ideas, as in this book, which shows difficult assumptions about young black women and the pressure they feel. Still, I would put this book in the hands of some young adult readers. There is so much to aspire to in the relationships among the girls as they go from nine to sixteen.

 

When many of us were growing up, we weren’t aware of “young adult” or “teen” literature. We just read books—like Hermann Hesse, Ayn Rand, JD Salinger. We understood them to the extent we understood. Sometimes when we spoke of these books, adults would marvel at our deep understanding. In some cases, the adults were more impressed than we deserved, using their own understanding to stretch our words and meanings.

 

Back to Another Brooklyn. Like all of Woodson’s writing, it is poetic. Her storytelling is masterful. I marvel at the ten-year-old girls’ devotion to each other. In their teens, they support each other, rely on each other. I didn’t find relationships like that until I was twenty. When I think further, I realize, that first deep girlfriend relationship was with Corinne, a young black dancer in London. We would walk down the street, arms locked. No one could penetrate our mutual protection.

 

Eventually I’d carry that intimacy to relationships with white girls. But now I ask myself, is this close bond something born especially in a black community? Am I stereotyping? Or just acknowledging that some stereotypes are born from a kernel of truth.

 

August, the book’s narrator, says her mother did not experience closeness with other women— quite the opposite. And it’s because of her mother’s depression that her father takes the children away from their Tennessee mother to live with him in Brooklyn. Eventually August’s estranged mother takes her own life. So . . . Is Woodson telling us that a woman’s relationship with other women essential? I surely agree.

 

And the title? “Another” Brooklyn. This implies an original Brooklyn. Is she saying there’s a white neighborhood experience and a black neighborhood experience? Perhaps. I loved this view into a world that I can only overlap, but have never lived. That is so often the beauty of books and reading—being given a view of life different than your own.

 

Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker. Win a copy of her not-yet-released Loving vs. Virginia here:

Why I wrote Loving vs. Virginia – Book Give Away

Facebook Twitter Email
Posted in Book Reviews

Why I wrote Loving vs. Virginia – Book Give Away

Loving vs Virgina

 

Loving vs. Virginia, a documentary novel told in verse by Patricia Hruby Powell and illustrated lovingvsvirginacoverby Shadra Strickland has a release date of January 31, 2017.

 

But I have some early copies in hand (not ARCs, but the real book, in color ;-). I’m offering 3 giveaways before the book comes out—one for October, one for November, one for December. To be eligible, please subscribe to my blog, and leave a comment saying you’d like a book—you’ll be eligible for all 3 drawings.

 

(Up until now, my blog has been a young adult book review column (previously middle grade books)—the reviews that run in the Champaign Urbana News Gazette once every three weeks).

 

Now for a bit about Loving vs. Virginia.

 

So . . . I’m frequently asked why I chose to write about the Loving v Virginia case. Actually, it chose me.

 

Before my book, Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (Chronicle 2014) came out, my publisher asked if I’d be interested in writing about the Loving v Virginia case. I did a bit of research and on the U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled in favor of interracial marriage. My parents had brought us up to care about people and fight injustice. This was a perfect fit.

 

My editor, Melissa Manlove, said she would try to get me a contract if I’d write three chapters and an outline of the nonfiction book for teens.

 

The Loving's neighborhood - first trip

The Loving’s neighborhood – first trip

So I set off to Virginia to start researching (more about the research in another post). I submitted those nonfiction chapters and shortly after Melissa called to chat.

 

Melissa: Would you be willing to write this story as a documentary novel?

 

Me: Sure. What’s a documentary novel?

 

(In my early writing career I had frequently and politely refused to change my approach to a book when an editor asked for a rewrite. As a dancer/choreographer I’d been chief cook and bottle washer and was accustomed to doing exactly what I wanted. It took me awhile to learn how brilliant a brilliant editor is; and there’s no editor more brilliant than Melissa.)

 

So, What is a documentary novel? It’s creative nonfiction. It is factual, but there’s a hitch. 168642Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood was a documentary novel. He interviewed the killer, but the victims weren’t around to talk. He created the scenes to create his thriller. Where Loving vs. Virginia is concerned, it is factual but I write in the voices of (African American/Indian) Mildred Jeter Loving alternating with “chapters” from the voice of (white) Richard Loving.

 

Whew, what a gift—to write this story as a documentary novel. Now I could write scenes. Rather than say, the two grew up in an integrated neighborhood where the black, white, and Indian neighbors supported each other and partied together, I could show teenaged Mildred dancing at one of their intergenerational interracial parties with her brother Otha, with Richard looking on. Then Richard offers to drive the family home. In other words, I could show Richard and Mildred falling in love.

Shadra Strickland illustration of the married Loving couple.

Shadra Strickland illustration of the married Loving couple.

Because this is a book for young adults (twelve and up) we decided it should be a love and courtship story, first. (More about researching that in another post).

 

So, yep, I did more research, more interviews, and I submitted the first several chapters of my creative nonfiction and an outline. Chronicle contracted the book. What a lovely situation to be writing a book that you know will be published!

 

Feel free to comment or ask questions. I’ll try to answer as best I can. An upcoming post will discuss the research of the book. Your question might prompt a new post. Thanks, and good luck. Hope you win a book.

 

–Patricia

Facebook Twitter Email
Posted in Book News, Book Reviews Tagged with: , ,

Graphic Novels: “Child Soldier,” “Roller Girl,” “Baba Yaga’s Assistant”

Graphic novels can be a fantastic way to get a reluctant young adult to read. A reader of graphic novels develops visual acuity, but this takes exposure, maybe some practice. But it’s really fun. Graphic novels no longer feature just Superman and Batman “pow! bang! pop!” characters. The illustrations tend to be more universally inviting. And there are graphic novels on many topics—serious, comic, nonfiction, fiction. Here are a few.

“Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War” (Kids Can Press 254835302015) by Jessica Dee Humphreys and Michel Chikwane and illustrated by Claudia Dávila tells the non-fiction story of Michel Chikwane, a child forced into a rebel army in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The story is augmented with maps and information about child soldiers and what you can do to help end the abuse.

The book begins with Michel arriving in the U.S.A with his mother, among other lucky refugees. The reader is given a brief history of the Congo, briefly describing the white (Belgium in this case) exploitation of its people and bountiful resources. The story is told by Michel, who says, “I played soccer, watched TV. I went to school and I daydreamed.” He explains how they made soccer balls out of crumpled paper wrapped in plastic bags and banana leaf rope. He was of the middle class, his father a human rights lawyer. His mother fed the whole neighborhood. At five years old Michel was kidnapped by a rebel army and forced to shoot his best friend. This is not easy reading, but it tells a necessary story. Many relocated refugees, now in the USA need to be seen and their stories told.

23493697            “Roller Girl” (Dial 2015) by Victoria Jameison tells the story of twelve year old Astrid whose interests diverge from those of her best friend who wants to go to ballet camp. Astrid chooses roller derby camp. It’s rough to grow apart from a best friend and find new friends and new interests. You feel Astrid’s pain and understand why she stops confiding in her mother. It’s all part of growing up. Plus you learn all about roller derby. So this is realistic fiction, with information on a sport you may have known little or nothing about.

“Baba Yaga’s Assistant” (Candlewick 2015) by Marika McCoola, illustrated by Emily Carroll is fantasy fiction which embraces folklore. To escape her home and newly blended 24727085family, teenaged Masha thinks she wants to assist the Russian folklore witch, Baba Yaga. First Masha has to get into Baba Yaga’s house, which sits atop chicken legs. Deceit rules, once she is inside the house. Masha must outsmart a bear and the witch who is serving children for dinner. This slightly dark poignant story is a fast fun read.

These graphic novels are all high quality productions, not printed on cheap comic book paper. The color is fantastic, and the feel of the books is smooth. Try them out.

 

Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker. Her young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia releases in January 2017. talesforallages.com

 

Facebook Twitter Email
Posted in Book Reviews

“The Lie Tree” by Frances Hardenge

Frances Hardenge sets “The Lie Tree” (Amulet 2016) in Victorian England,26118377 amidst the argument of God vs. Darwin’s theory of evolution. Faith, 14 years old, soon-to-be a woman, must feign ignorance in order to discuss natural science.

Speaking to a doctor who measures his patients’ heads, Faith remarks, Oh, you’re a cranionimist. When he balks and threatens to stop speaking, she timidly asks, Is that the right word? Due to her timidity he can continue. Message: a woman musn’t be too clever.

Faith observes that women “expand into the space left by men.” Various women maneuver differently, “without visibly changing, they unfolded, like flowers, or like knives.” Faith’s mother, pretty and clever in the ways of women-who-know-their-place, stakes her claim in the pecking order of the local caste, surviving on her good looks—unfolding as a flower to impressive results. These are her tools in an unfair world. At first her mother’s coquetry is abhorrent to Faith, but she learns to appreciate her mother’s high intelligence.

Hardenge gives insight into human foibles with wit akin to Jane Austen.

Faith’s father, a clergyman and natural scientist drinks tea along with his colleagues “while racing their rival theories like prize ponies.” The men speak science. And argue God vs. Evolution. Could God have created imperfect animals? No. Faith longs to join the discussion—and argue—but she’s doomed to drink tea with her docile mother and the ladies.

23592175            Faith thinks of herself as dull, prim, and shy. We see her as daring to be inquisitive. When she tells her stern and revered father that she is clever he accuses her of being burdened with “repellant vanity.”

Mystery opens the story with her father being banished from London to avoid a scandal. We know it has something to do with the credibility of his research. But what has he done? One third of the way through, a death occurs in the family. Is it an accident? Suicide? Murder? This book, besides providing insight into a precursor to our society, is a page turning thriller.

Characters are playing each other. Faith is no exception. Playing on the servant’s superstitious natures, she sets up situations which reek of witchcraft. The servants are terrified and the remaining family members fear the servants. Hardenge sums up one scene, saying, the room “crackled of fear.”

Most nights, Faith risks her life to row out into the night-time bay to a cave where her father has hidden a struggling plant he’s brought from London. The fruit from this plant, “the lie tree,” bears fruit when someone utters a lie to it. The fruit, in return reveals a hidden truth to that person. Faith wants the truth and goes to great extremes to get it.

What wonderful imagination and stunning execution ground this award-winning book. First published last year in England, it’s only the second young adult book to be awarded the prestigious Costa Book of the Year (formerly “Whitbread”) since Philip Pullman won in 2001.

 

Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker. Her young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia releases in January 2017. talesforallages.com

 

Facebook Twitter Email
Posted in Book Reviews

“Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War” by Steve Sheinkin

Steve Sheinkin won the Boston Globe Horn Book Nonfiction Award for his last 23310694three books including his most recent “Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War” (Roaring Brook 2016). No wonder. It’s thoroughly researched, clearly stated, and reads like a thriller.

Ho Chi Min came to power in Vietnam at the end of WWII. America supported him briefly, then slighted him because he was communist. Vietnam divided into North (Communist) and South. The U.S. with its Cold War fear, needed to halt Communism.

A bright young man, Daniel Ellsberg, went to work at the Pentagon.

President Johnson wanted to fight a war against poverty, ignorance, and disease. Instead he was handed the Vietnam War. In Top Secret documents he was advised that the (communist) Viet Cong had more staying power and the U.S. could not win the Vietnam War. The Johnson administration systematically lied to the American people, saying that North Vietnam initially fired on the U.S. Not true. When Johnson sent 200,000 U.S. soldiers he told the American people that he sent 125,000. He said the war would be brief. He knew it would be long. But he did not want to be humiliated as the first U.S. President to lose a war.

Working with Top Secret Pentagon papers, Ellsberg knew all this. Ellsberg was demoted for sneaking a peak at a forbidden binder. But he was able to copy and take the 7,000 Top Secret war report when he was fired. These became known as the Pentagon Papers. Intense, intelligent, and deeply patriotic—Daniel Ellsberg went to Vietnam to try to find a way to win the war. Or end it.

In 1966 Secretary of Defense MacNamara, knowing we couldn’t win the war, didn’t tell President Johnson. Johnson escalated the war and lied to the American people again. He sent Henry Kissinger to Paris for Peace Talks with South Vietnam President Thieu. Presidential candidate Richard Nixon used his friendship with Thieu asking him not to cooperate in the peace talks so Johnson would look bad and he—Nixon—could win the presidency, which he did.

President Nixon secretly escalated the war, bombing Cambodia. Still in Vietnam, Ellsberg realized that the South Vietnamese wanted the war ended under any circumstances. We were there because no U.S. president wanted to lose. This, Ellsberg felt, was an abomination.

Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, first to the New York Times. The government ordered the newspaper to stop printing and went after Ellsberg. But Ellsberg had already gone to the Washington Post. Then the Boston Globe and the Chicago Sun Times. Nixon was in a strangle hold. He sent FBI workers to illegally take Ellsberg’s psychiatry records. Those agents (who were trying to seal leaks) became known as the Plumbers. They failed miserably. Nixon’s presidency ended. The Vietnam War ended.

Read this book. Please.

 

Patricia Hruby Powell’s book Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker was awarded a Sibert Honor for Nonfiction, Boston Globe Horn Book Nonfiction Honor, and a Coretta Scott King Honor for illustration. talesforallages.com

Facebook Twitter Email
Posted in Book Reviews

“Flannery” by Lisa Moore

Flannery, 16, lives with her charming but flaky mother in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Flannery says, “We used to be 26113800what’s called the working poor, but now we’re just plain old poor.” Her mother, Miranda, is an eco-artist, but that doesn’t qualify as work. She’s not paid. Both Flannery and Miranda are loveable characters in Lisa Moore’s “Flannery” (Groundwood 2016).

As is a somewhat common theme in young adult literature, the precocious daughter is more responsible than her single mother. Miranda’s most recent major installation was an ice sculpture of a mama polar bear and her cub. She carved it with a chain saw and set it to sea to melt—her comment on global warming. Very cool, but, as Flannery points out, it doesn’t pay the bills.

Starting in France, Flannery’s father was sailing around the world on a boat made of junk—outsized plastic containers, rusted refrigerator doors, found tarps—to protest the garbage that is abandoned on African beaches. He landed in Newfoundland on one wonderfully romantic night. But we don’t know his name, because Flannery doesn’t know it. Because Miranda never asked his name. So he doesn’t even know he’s a father.

Flannery’s “voice” is fun, intriguing and remarkably authentic. It draws you in as you wait for the story to get going. Flannery has a little brother. She knows who the father is, but Hank has left them to marry a law student like himself. Flannery wants Miranda to tell the adorable, naughty, annoying Felix who his father is, but Miranda won’t.

Flannery’s best friend, Amber, “drops” Flannery and stops competitive swimming all for an abusive boyfriend. Flannery is in love with bad boy Tyrone who is an outlaw graffiti artist. They’ve known each other since they were toddlers. Things look up for Flannery when their entrepreneurship teacher pairs her with Tyrone to do their final project. But Flannery ends up doing it alone since Tyrone neither comes to school nor answers her texts.

But it’s Tyrone’s idea to sell love potions as their project. Flannery knows it’s a gag, but she’s going all out, having little bottles blown by a glass artist who’s on his way out of the country. The red “eternal love” potion is actually boiled beet water, the “crush” potion is spinach water, plus there are two others. Surprisingly, the potions seem to work. Power of suggestion?

Best friend Amber is making a rock video of her boyfriend’s band for her entrepreneur project. He’s also her project partner. The boyfriend works to isolate and humiliate Amber. But Amber will not allow Flannery or anyone else to help her.

There are lots of issues, which do indeed get tied together. You root for all these quirky characters through the many subplots. Not everything works out ideally for Flannery, but there are a lot of issues to hold the attention and respect of teens.

 

Facebook Twitter Email
Posted in Book Reviews

“The Incident on the Bridge” by Laura McNeal

At the height of the two mile Coronado Bridge from the California mainland to the Island is a jumping spot. So many 25885719people have jumped from the 250 foot height that one of the surveillance cameras is trained right on it. Graycie is a single mom whose job it is to watch the monitors. But she gets distracted. When she looks up there’s an empty car stopped at that spot—but no person. It’s nighttime. A light is broken. The view is hazy. Graycie doesn’t see a person—just the stopped car. She needs this job. She can’t admit that she spaced out.
Graycie is one of at least fourteen narrators who tell the story of “The Incident on the Bridge” by Laura McNeal (Knopf 2016). But it’s seventeen-year-old Thisbe’s story.
Fen drives long distance to visit his Uncle Carl on Coronado Island after his father dies. Carl, a police officer, is also brother to Fen’s father. At the highpoint of the bridge a car stops right in front of Fen and a girl gets out. She leaves the car door open. He’s annoyed. Should he help her? She waves him on.
Officers Lord and Skelly assume that someone jumped. They trace the deserted car to seventeen-year-old Clay, but Clay wasn’t the driver. He’s well and alive and living on his boat, seducing girl after vulnerable girl, just like he seduced impressionable Thisbe.
If someone jumped, shouldn’t there be a body? But bodies get stuck under the pylons or carried far off by currents and aren’t always found.
Ted, Thisbe’s beautiful street-wise younger sister, had told Thisbe that Clay was a creep. But he was so handsome and convincing. If Thisbe had any sense, she would have fallen for tennis playing Jerome, who truly likes Thisbe. Thisbe is school-smart, but she sure isn’t people-smart.
Thisbe, in desperation, had stolen or borrowed Clay’s car. She’s at the center of the incident on the bridge. Thisbe’s mother Anne is, of course, frantic when Thisbe doesn’t come home. Ted knew her sister was depressed, but she doesn’t think her sister would kill herself. She buddies up with Fen and searches for Thisbe.
Frank is an older menacing character complete with an odd backstory. When he was a boy he played realistic pirating games with his sister, until it ended badly.
The backstory and front story unfold in 87 brief chapters told by many voices and deserves to be read in large swaths of time rather than 20 minutes each night before bedtime.
McNeal knows her setting—California’s Coronado Island and she knows California beach kids and their boating and water culture. She knows how her characters think and how they talk—most are either likeable or fascinating in some way. I felt invited into a world I knew little about. The book might start a little slowly but it picks up and begins pulling you along at a rapid pace.

Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker. Her young adult documentary novel Loving vs. Virginia releases in Jaunary 2017. talesforallages.com

Facebook Twitter Email
Posted in Book Reviews

“Anna and the Swallow Man” by Gavriel Savit

In 1939 Krakow, Poland, seven-year-old Anna awaits her father’s return at Herr Doktor’s pharmacy. Gavriel Savit writes25489036 “To a child, an empty hour is a lifetime” in his insightful debut novel, “Anna and the Swallow Man” (Knopf 2016). Motherless Anna eventually realizes that her linguist father will not be returning, although she doesn’t know it is the Gestapo that has taken him.

Herr Doktor, afraid to hide Anna, sends the child into the streets where she meets a tall lanky man who carries a doctor’s bag. Whereas he’s somewhat menacing, he feeds and talks to birds, and this attracts Anna. When he sets off across a field, Anna follows. Thus begins four years of wandering—behind the enemy, sleeping under hedges in all seasons, and enacting schemes to cross border control. As Germany pushes through Poland from the west and the Soviets from the east, “Anna and the Swallow Man made it their labor to walk.”

Savit speaks of the “wise clear-sightedness of a child” which some adults name “precocious.” The reader will remember how it felt to be a child, making sense of an incomprehensible world. Both the Swallow Man and Anna speak Polish, German, Russian, easily and well. This helps. They always wait for any stranger to speak first, and they match language and dialect. After all, Anna’s father was a linguist. Anna is adaptable. The pair, overall, speaks the language: Road. They speak in riddles in the presence of others.

The Swallow Man has rules—rules that will keep them alive. “To be found is to be gone forever.” (Her father had been found). When they are in a large town, the pair enacts a prosperous father and daughter out for a stroll. When in the country, the pair became regional country folk. They each have two sets of clothing, one being stored in the thin man’s satchel. Over the seasons and the years, new clothes are procured, oftentimes taken off dead bodies.

Another tenet—“Money divides people into buyers and sellers,” so they use no money. They are given food or exchange tasks for food. The Swallow Man has a knack for making comrades out of each acquaintance. He teaches Anna that other humans are their best bet for survival. He also teaches, “People are dangerous.” In spite of this, Anna makes a friend of an itinerant musician, who accompanies the pair for a time.

Another of the Swallow Man’s rules—he is the riverbank, she flows within. He is in charge, she will follow his lead. Until the day that even the Swallow Man becomes unreliable—grossly unreliable. Anna, now ten, must take their survival into her own hands.

How many people hide themselves in full view? I had never before thought of this in terms of Jews during World War II. Savit, a working actor, professionally takes on other identities. In his book, he probes mysteries of identity, adaptability, death, and ethics. This “young adult” book should be read by adults.

 

Patricia Hruby Powell’s book Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker was awarded a Sibert Honor for Nonfiction, Boston Globe Horn Book Nonfiction Honor, and a Coretta Scott King Honor for illustration. talesforallages.com

Facebook Twitter Email
Posted in Book Reviews