Thursday, October 18, 2012

Finding Family - historical fiction chapter book

At the Texas Library Association conference in Austin in April 2011, I met award-winning children's and young adult author Tonya Bolden (pictured below).

Her publisher, Bloomsbury, had hardcover copies of her latest book, Finding Family, for sale for $5, and the price and the beautiful cover caught my eye.  Now we have a signed copy of the book in the Dick Smith Library collection.

Set in Charleston, West Virginia, in 1905, Finding Family is the story of twelve-year-old orphan Delana Hannibal, who lives with her well-off grandfather and his widowed sister, Aunt Tilley.  Tilley props photos of family members around the room and tells Delana stories about them.

The problem is, the stories aren't always true, as Delana learns after Tilley's death, when an exiled cousin appears in Delana's room and begins to tell Delana about the parents she's never known.

I'm interested in genealogy, family history, and old photographs and postcards, and this book incorporates all of them into historical fiction (which I also love).  Bolden built the story around 30 images from her collection of antique photographs and postcards, dating from the 1870s to the early 1900s.  Bolden imagined stories for each person in the photographs, making each a member of Delana's family tree (which is charted in the back of the book).   Bolden also worked a real 1881 lithograph and a real 1891 local event into the story, as well as various figures from African-American history.  It was also interesting to read about the lives of upper/middle class African-Americans in West Virginia at the time.

Finding Family is recommended for ages 8-12, grades 3-6.  Accelerated Reader puts the reading level at grade 4.3, so this seems appropriate.  There's an excellent teacher's guide at the publisher's website, that incorporates English language arts, social studies, the arts, photography, and genealogy.
© Amanda Pape - 2012

[This book was borrowed from and returned to the Dick Smith Library at Tarleton State University. It's downstairs in the Curriculum Collection, call number PZ7 .B635855 FI 2010.  A version of this review also appears on my blog, Bookin' It.]

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