Review: Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

hold fast

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

Early lives in a warm and loving family.  Her father Dash is a lover of words and word games.  Her mother Sum and little brother Jubie make up the total of four in their family.  But when Dash gets involved in something shady, their loving family becomes three.  Then people raid their home, breaking down the door and they are forced to head to a shelter without knowing where Dash is or how he will find them again in the big city of Chicago.  Early finds she has to be the strong one as her mother begins to falter and her brother is so little.  Shelter life is difficult and it takes Early some time to realize that she is in the middle of a mystery that she can help solve. 

Balliett demonstrates her own love of words and wordplay throughout this novel.  Told in beautiful prose, she writes poetically about the city she loves, the beauty of snow, and the power of family.  She incorporates wordplay through her protagonist, who looks at words the way her father taught her to.  Many times words sound like what they are, points out Balliett, and just reading this book will have readers seeing words in a new way.

Balliett also introduces young readers to the poetry of Langston Hughes.  One of his books is at the heart of not only the mystery of the book but at the heart of the family.  As Hughes muses on dreams and their importance, both Early and the reader are able to see his words and understand them deeply. 

The aspect of the homeless shelter and the difficulties the family and Early face there is an important one.  Balliett is obviously making a point with her book, sometimes too obviously.  There are also some issues with plotting, with the book dragging at points and struggling to move forward.  That aside, the writing is stellar and the characters strong. 

Another fine offering from Balliett, get this one into the hands of her fans.  It will also be great choice for reading aloud in classrooms with its wordplay and strong African-American characters and family.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Review: When Thunder Comes by J. Patrick Lewis

when thunder comes

When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Jim Burke, R. Gregory Christie, Tonya Engel, John Parra, and Meilo So

These poems celebrate heroes who have fought for civil rights.  Each poem focuses on one person, tells their story in imagery and strength.  Seventeen men and women are on the pages here, people from around the world and from the American Civil Rights Movement.  These are heroes who fought for justice and for equality.  Their stories and these poems are filled with courage, vision and a sense of doing what is right.  They will serve as inspiration for future generations who will have their own civil rights struggles to face.

Lewis has created poems that are both art but also informational.  He offers critical details in understanding what these heroes have been through and what they have accomplished.  At the same time, he reaches the heart of the person through his poetry too, showing the humanity about them as well.

The art in this book of poems was done by five illustrators.  The images range from the bright colors of Chinatown to the darkness of murder in Mississippi.  In every image though, readers see a leader who radiates courage.  The different art styles come together to form a tapestry of that courage.

Strong and powerful, this book of poetry deserves to be shared widely and these names known and understood.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.