Storyteller by Patricia Reilly Giff (Wendy Lamb Books 2010)

This is the first of the middle grade book reviews I will be writing for our newspaper in Champaign Urbana–the News Gazette. This ran Sunday, April 10, 2011 and a new review will run once every three weeks.


7668424ATTENTION, MIDDLE GRADERS (yes, you — let’s say third- or fourth- through seventh-graders): Every third Sunday, this book column is for YOU to read.

I was immediately attracted to the book “Storyteller” (Wendy Lamb Books 2010) by Patricia Reilly Giff because I’m a storyteller. What could this story tell me about myself? Isn’t that one reason we read? To find out about ourselves and our world?

Elizabeth is sent away from everything familiar — her father, home, friends, school — to live with Aunt Libby in upstate New York so that Pop can work in Australia for a time. To make things worse, she’s plunked into a new school in the middle of the year.

At Aunt Libby’s house, Elizabeth is attracted to an old framed drawing of Zee, who looks oddly like her. Elizabeth starts asking quiet Aunt Libby, her deceased mother’s sister, about this familiar-looking relative who lived in the 18th century during the War for Independence.

Zee tells the story of her Patriot family, farming on the New York frontier. Those loyal to the British king (called Loyalists) were her friends and neighbors until they burned down her house and farm. Zee, 15, had to flee into the woods, leaving her mother behind.

We the readers, have the privilege of hearing Zee, who has seriously burned her hands, describe her barefoot journey through the forest and mountains northward in search of her brother and father, who she thinks are fighting at Fort Dayton for American freedom.

Alternately, Elizabeth has only the drawing, her imagination and research to patch together Zee’s story. We experience the horrors of war, but thankfully, without graphic sensationalism.

Readers will connect with the more familiar plight of Elizabeth’s loneliness, but they’ll be riveted by the life-and-death adventure of Zee.

As Elizabeth uncovers her family history, she and others realize she’s a storyteller. What Elizabeth finds in an antique shop allows us to see the outcome of Zee’s life, just as Elizabeth discovers the truth herself.


Patricia Hruby Powell ( is a nationally touring speaker, dancing storyteller, substitute librarian and children’s book author.

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10 comments on “Storyteller by Patricia Reilly Giff (Wendy Lamb Books 2010)
  1. colleen says:

    What a great review! Now I want to read the books and I’m not even a middle schooler!

  2. Definitely read the books, Colleen. There are so many great middle grade (MG) books out there. And something I particularly like about them–no matter how dark the material–there will be something of hope to carry you through it. Very helpful for falling asleep at night.

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. Adriane says:

    What a perfect gig for you! I also loved the comment you made to Colleen. I’ve had trouble focusing on the usual books I read, so maybe something ‘lighter’ would be a nice change for my brain.

  4. morgan1938 says:

    PHP, one of many talents and endless energy strikes again. Congratulations my dear. Success follows you everywhere.

    Your reviews encourages me to want to read these books but I doubt that I could understand them as they are probably under my head – It’s a joke, It’s a joke…………..maybe

  5. Annette Zelanski says:

    Some of the most fun reads are MG books ( up here we call them YA, young adult, unless the acronym has changed for us too) and there are times when I’ll read a cluster of them. The writers I appreciate the most are those who don’t talk down to kids, and whose prose style is delightful to read regardless of age of reader. Thanks for the reviews of these, neither of which I’ve read, but plan to now, thanks to your enticing prose style!!

  6. Annette, in our neck of the woods (and I think overall in the library world) (and the publishing world), middle grade (MG) might range from a 4th – 7th grade readership–give or take a grade. Young Adult (YA) is an overlapping but older age-range category, starting at about 7th grade and upward.

    Having said that, I will now argue with myself 😉 and agree with you to say: There are some great MG and YA books out there, that are simply books for people (regardless of age) and some adults are recognizing that and the YA label has come to mean any juvenile novel-length book.

    Why would an adult want to read an MG or YA book? Some of them are gripping or beautifully written or both. Of course, it’s highly subjective which books anyone will like.

    But I like these. They might be a nice change for your brain (thanks for that thought, Adriane) Any book I write about here is my recommendation. So y’all, please read them and let me know what you think. x

  7. Kathe says:

    Your review inspires me to read “Storyteller.”

  8. Mita says:

    What an enticing review! Makes me wanting to read the book, now!

  9. Sheila Welch says:

    Hi, Patricia,

    Thanks for writing such great reviews! I’ve read quite a few of Giff’s books and will certainly read this one too.

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