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Book Review: Priscilla and the Hollyhocks By Anne Broyles

Author Anne Broyles remembers her maternal Grandma Verna’s raspy voice as she recited “Best, Beloved Poems” to her grandchildren. So Broyles relates to grandparents who come up to her after bookstore events or library readings and say, “My grandmother grew hollyhocks in her yard. I think I’ll get some seeds and plant them with my grandson.”

Or “My parents were immigrants, too. Maybe it’s time for me to share our family’s story with my grandkids.” Just as Grandma Verna imparted her love of poetry to Broyles, other grandparents want to use books to forge bonds with their own grandchildren.

Based on a true story, Priscilla and the Hollyhocks follows Priscilla from her early years as a slave on a Southern plantation to her forced march along the Trail of Tears with her Cherokee master to the chance encounter that leads to her freedom. On her journey from slave to free woman, Priscilla carries something precious with her: hollyhock seeds…and hope.

Why is this a good book for grandparents to read to their grandkids?
1) Priscilla and the Hollyhocks gives the opportunity to share each generation’s feelings of “What is home?” “What things are symbols of family for me?”
2) Many contemporary grandparents remember hollyhocks from their own growing up or visits to older relatives’ homes. The two generations could plant flowers together or visit a flower market to bring home bouquets.
3) For 3rd grade and up, this book presents history (Trail of Tears, slavery) that is often not mentioned.
4) There’s an online guide (https://www.annebroyles.com/teachers_priscilla.htm–scroll down) with a wide variety of activities and ways to expand on the book.

Priscilla and the Hollyhocks
Charlesbridge, 2008
Picture book, 32 pages
$16.95 (hardcover)

• Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People 2009
• Bank Street College’s The Best Children’s Books of the Year
• Massachusetts Book Awards recommended reading list (one of five picture books chosen)

Shy Mama’s Halloween tells the story of a Russian immigrant family’s first experience of Halloween in the United States, their adopted country. Anya, Irina, Dasha, and Dimitrii have never known the magic of Halloween. For their mother, who is uncomfortable with America, this holiday becomes a courageous step into a new world.

As Anya says, “Here, in the darkness, surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of other children, we, too, were American. No one cared that our ‘Thank you’ was said with an accent. No one cared that our Mama, in her babushka, could speak only a few words of English. Halloween was our holiday, as much as anyone else’s.”

Why is this a good book for grandparents to read to their grandkids?
1) Shy Mama’s Halloween gives the opportunity to share each generation’s experiences of holiday celebrations.
2) If the family has any immigrant history, grandparents can share those stories.
3) The book has two pages of “Suggestions for Parents and Teachers” at the back, with sections on “Moving to a New Home,” “Thinking about Anya’s Life,” “Thinking about Your Life,” and “Halloween and Other Traditions”

Shy Mama’s Halloween
Tilbury House, 2000
Picture book, 32 pages
$7.95 (paperback)

•Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People for 2001
• The McNaughton List
• Teachers’ Choice 2002 Award, Learning Magazine

For more on the author, see:



Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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