Priscilla and the Hollyhocks

Priscilla and the Hollyhocks

Written by Anne Broyles

Illustrated by Anna Alter

Published by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc., 2008

Priscilla dreamed of freedom, a dream to be fulfilled, but only after the loss of her mother, and after toiling through the life of a slave.

When Priscilla was very young, her mother was sold away, “like a steer led to slaughter.” All she had left were her memories, and the Hollyhocks her mother had planted down by the cow pond.

When she was old enough, Priscilla was put to work in the big house, where she tried to remain invisible and stay out of the way. But mostly, she was scared. Especially at night when she heard the screams of slaves being beaten.

One day, a young man, Massa Basil Silkwood, visited the plantation. He stopped to chat with Priscilla and told her how smart she was, and that she should be in school. Massa Silkwood wasn’t cool with slavery.

Soon after, Priscilla’s master died, and she was sold on the auction block. Her new master, a Cherokee Indian and his wife, put Priscilla to work, “Another plantation, same life.” With the memory of her mother in her heart, Priscilla found solace sitting amongst the Hollyhocks she’d planted after arriving at the plantation. But once again, change was about to come.

As a result of the Indian Removal Act, a law that made it easier for the government to take land from Indians, Priscilla and her master’s family — and 16,000 other Cherokees — were rounded up and forced to move. They walked for months, trudging through the elements. Many people died along the way, as did Priscilla’s master’s eldest son.

While passing through a town, Priscilla, just by chance, saw someone she recognized: Massa Basil Silkwood! She told him her story, and he rescued her, purchasing her freedom.

While researching the Cherokee Trail of Tears for a novel she was writing, Anne Broyles discovered Priscilla’s story. Priscilla and the Hollyhocks offers a somewhat different story of slavery in America, a story unknown to many — or at least to me, anyway — African slaves who were not owned by whites, but by Native Americans. Who’da thought?

Anne Broyles tells an important story with an authentic voice. It was heart-breaking, yet ended on a high note: Priscilla found her freedom, and she inherited a large family who claimed her as daughter and sister, not slave.

Anna Alter’s folksy acrylic illustrations portray the story with the same tenderness and attention to detail as the story was told.

If you have a picture book that you’d like to submit for possible mention here, send me an email and I’ll return it with my mailing address.

What to send:
Picture books or very early chapter books, of particular interest to African American children (regardless of the race of the author). I’m looking for books with African American characters (however you choose to define that) or subject matter.

For other types of books — YA novels, middle grade chapters, graphic novels, contact Paula, Varian, Kelly or Carla (Although they, I’m sure, would welcome picture books too.)

– Don

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