Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Helen Frost has given us the Printz Honor book, KEESHA’S HOUSE, as well as SPINNING THROUGH THE UNIVERSE, and now outdoes herself with THE BRAID (FSG, 2006). She “braids” the intertwining tale of two sisters surviving hardships as Scottish refugees/immigrants in the 1850’s. Told through a poetic structure of her own invention derived from Celtic knots (and explained in helpful endnotes), the story unfolds in narrative poems in two voices alternating with brief praise poems and all connected through parallel beginning and ending lines. Although this is complicated to describe, the structure does not get in the way of one’s enjoyment, quite the contrary. The rhythm created by this juxtaposition of short poem/long poem; girl who stays/girl who goes keeps the reader turning the page. And the language and writing is exquisite:

The songs that enter children’s ears
carried across centuries of
love, stay with them, bringing comfort,
setting their feet dancing, coming
back to them when their own children
first look up and see them smiling
or hear them weeping as they rock,
strong boats upon a stormy sea.

Each sister emerges as a strong and individual character framed against a fascinating slice of history in two vivid settings. And each girl’s experience bridges the divide from girlhood to womanhood—thus this may be a book most appropriate for middle school readers and above. A new poem-story book not to be missed.

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