Just South of Home by Karen Strong

Just South of Home

Karen Strong, Author

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Fiction, May 9, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 320

Themes: African Americans, Family Relationships, Racism, Crimes, Georgia, Ghosts, Supernatural

Book Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Sarah is finally in charge. At last, she can spend her summer months reading her favorite science books and bossing around her younger, brainy brother, Ellis, instead of being worked to the bone by their overly strict grandmother, Mrs. Greene. But when their cousin, Janie, arrives for a visit, Sarah’s plans are completely squashed.

Janie has a knack for getting into trouble and asks Sarah to take her to the burned-down ruins of Creek Church, a landmark of the small town that she heard was haunted with ghosts. It’s also off-limits. Janie’s sticky fingers disturb the restless ghosts (or haints), who are unleashed upon the town. It is up to Sarah, Janie, Ellis and his best friend, Jasper to uncover the deep-seated racist part of the town’s past that is filled with unimaginable crimes against the black community. With a bit of luck, this foursome will heal the place they call home and the people within it they call family.

Why I like this book:

Karen Strong’s Just South of Home is a haunting and extraordinary experience for readers who are interested in looking at racist atrocities committed in the South and how they impact a community who wants to forget the past. The author doesn’t shy away from dealing with the burning of the town’s Creek Church by the Klan and a boy who is brutally murdered and buried near the church. His restless spirit is trapped and needs to move into the light realm.

The characters are loveable and memorable. Sarah’s safe and logical science-filled background is overturned once she experiences the force of evil and the unrest of the haints. Janie is fearless and nudges Sarah to do things she wouldn’t normally do — like breaking into their grandmother’s attic
to search for clues about Creek Church and getting caught. Mrs. Greene is unmoving and won’t think twice about using a willow switch as a form of punishment. But she is also very generous with her famous red velvet cake. Evolving family relationships are central to this novel.

Strong’s plot is thrilling and suspense-filled. It is mystery that Sarah, Janie, Ellis and Jasper desperately want to solve. Her deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. Teens looking for something original and creative will enjoy this novel. It is an excellent discussion book because of the historical themes.

Karen Strong was born and raised in rural Georgia. She spent most of her childhood wandering the woods, meadows, and gardens on her grandmother’s land. She now lives in Atlanta. Just South of Home is her first novel. Visit the author at her website.

Favorite Quote: Page 100

I couldn’t deny it. What we had seen was as real as the sun, the stars, and the planets in our solar system. Those shadows were physical things, and they weren’t human. I didn’t need any more theories. No more explanations. Creek Church was haunted. 

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Desmond and the Very Mean Word

Desmond9780763652296_p0_v1_s260x420Desmond and the Very Mean Word

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams, Authors

A.G. Ford, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Biography, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes:  Bullying, Racism, Compassion, South Africa, Archbishop Tutu

Opening“Desmond was very proud of his new bicycle. He was the only child in the whole township who had one, and he couldn’t wait to show it to Father Trevor.”

Jacket Synopsis: When Desmond takes his new bicycle out for a ride, his pride and joy turn to hurt and anger when some boys shout a very mean word at him. No matter what he tries, Desmond can’t stop thinking about what the boys said. With the wise advice of kindly Father Trevor, Desmond learns an important lesson about understanding his conflicted feelings and how to forgive.

Why I like this book:  This heartfelt story is based on a true-life story from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s childhood in South Africa. Like many African children, Tutu is bullied and words of hatred shouted at him by other boys.  He is angry and after several incidents, he turns and shouts the meanest word he can think of. At first he is proud of himself, but later feels shame good over his actions. I really think it’s important for children to know how a Nobel Peace Prize winner comes to terms with issues that are still relevant today. Desmond finds that forgiveness is the only way to free himself from his anger. This is a very important step for the young Desmond — for all children. The author focuses on his feelings instead of sounding preachy. Ford’s stunning oil paintings powerfully depict Desmond’s early life in South Africa and capture the emotion of the characters.

Resources:  Archbishop Tutu has a forward about the story and a backpage of history about his relationship with Father Trevor. Tutu has spent his life bringing equality, justice, and peace to South Africa. He continues to be a leading spokesperson for peace and forgiveness. Candlewick Press has prepared a Teacher’s Guide for use with the book in the classroom.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.