Meet Addy


Meet Addy by Connie Porter, 1993.

MeetAddySlaveBuyerAddy is nine years old, and she has lived her entire life so far as a slave on a plantation in North Carolina.  It is the time of the American Civil War, and Addy’s parents are worried about the future of their children.

One night, she hears her father saying to her mother that they ought to take the whole family and run away.  Her mother is worried that it’s too dangerous.  She hopes that soon the war will end, and they will be freed.  However, Addy’s father is worried that the family might be split up before that can happen because there is talk that the plantation owner, Master Stevens, might sell some of his slaves, and families wouldn’t necessarily be sold together.

His fears turn out to be justified because, soon after, while Addy is helping to serve dinner to a guest at the plantation house, she finds out that Master Stevens is planning to sell her father and brother to someone else.  She tries to get to them and tell them to run away before they can be taken away, but the overseer stops her.  Addy sees her father and brother taken away in chains.

With Addy’s father and brother gone, her mother has a serious talk with Addy about their future.  The two of them can follow the plan and run away to the North, establishing a new life for themselves and hopefully arranging for their family to be reunited later.  If they don’t take this opportunity to leave, there is the possibility that the family will be fractured further.  The man Master Stevens sold Addy’s father and brother to has already said that he might like to buy Addy as well.

MeetAddyMotherSisterAlthough Addy and her mother are frightened at the idea of running away, they decide that this is their only chance to escape together.  Addy is upset when her mother tells her that they can’t bring her baby sister with them.  She is too young for the journey, and if she cries, it might give them away.  Instead, they will leave little Esther with their close friends, Auntie Lula and Uncle Solomon Morgan.  They plan to find a way to send for them when the war is over.

Addy and her mother have to seek out the woman that Addy’s father had talked about, Miss Caroline.  She’s a member of the Underground Railroad and can help them get out of North Carolina and go to Philadelphia, where Addy’s father had planned to take the family.

They leave in the middle of the night and travel by night.  The journey is hazardous, and there are times when they are almost caught.  At one point, Addy’s mother nearly drowns crossing a river.  But, together, they face the dangers, knowing that a better life awaits them at the end of their journey.  Even when they reach Miss Caroline, Addy’s story is really just beginning.

In the back, there is a section with historical information about the origins of slavery in North America and what the lives of slaves were like.  One thing that I kind of wish they had mentioned was about how widely indentured servitude was used in early American history and how it helped to make the idea of slavery more appealing in early America, which was something one of my old college professors once talked about.

Indentured servitude is when someone works off a debt by working for someone else for free for certain period of time.  Often, this was how poor people could pay for passage to America during Colonial times.  In exchange for someone paying the price of their passage on a ship, they would work for them for awhile.  When that time was over, the indentured servant could move on to new employment or had to be paid for his work.  When plantation owners started buying slaves, what they were really saying was that they wanted permanent indentured servants, ones that could never leave them, that wouldn’t have any end to their servitude because it wasn’t based on any debt.  It couldn’t be based on any debt because the slaves owed them nothing.  The issue for the plantation owners was that they couldn’t build plantations the size they wanted and pay the labor to support them at the same time, so their solution to the problem was free labor — or at least, labor that cost no more than an indentured servant would: one initial outlay for the purchase and then some basic food and clothing to keep the workers going.

The practice of slavery is disgusting, but for me, it’s the attitude behind it that’s the real problem.  The plantation owners didn’t have any right to anyone’s free labor, and they knew there was no debt involved.  They just didn’t want to pay people, and just not wanting to pay people was a good enough reason for them.  In the end, whatever they said about race and their own superiority, it was all really about the money all along.  They would have said anything, done anything, to turn more profit for themselves, and because no one stopped them for a long time, that’s exactly what they did.  The rest was basically excuses piled upon justifications piled on more self-entitled excuses and more self-centered justifications.  They did what they did mainly because they could get away with it, and the fact that they could get away with it made them feel like it was all right.  It wasn’t.




A Hug for a New Friend


A Hug for a New Friend by Janet Anderson, illustrated by Ron C. Lipking, 1985.

Sarah is worried because her usual babysitter, Kim, is sick, and her mother says that she will have to have a new one until Kim is better.  Her temporary new babysitter is named Laura, and Sarah will meet her the next morning. Sarah really likes Kim, and she worries that her new babysitter will be mean or not like her.

When Sarah wakes up the next morning, before she goes to meet Laura, she sees an odd little person in her bedroom mirror. This odd little person is Tickles, one of the Hugga Bunch. She says that she likes making new friends, but Sarah isn’t sure that she feels the same way.


Tickles says that she came to see Sarah because she saw her looking sad and invites her to come to Huggaland with her to meet the other Hugga Bunch. Sarah worries at first about what the other Hugga Bunch will be like and whether they’ll like her, but she is amazed at what she sees. Huggaland is soft and colorful, and everyone is very friendly.


She asks Tickles how they can all like her when they don’t know her, and they explain that being friendly to other people encourages them to be friendly in return. That’s really how friends are made. When Sarah comforts one of the Hugga Bunch after she drops a tray of lemonade, she sees what they mean. Her kind gesture has earned her a new friend.


When Sarah returns home and goes to meet her new babysitter, she discovers that Laura is actually rather sweet and shy, not mean, as Sarah feared. Sarah greets Laura with a friendly hug, and the two of them become friends.


The Hugga Bunch’s advice to immediately start a new friendship with a hug may be somewhat awkward in real life, but the idea that kindness and friendly gestures inspire others to respond with kindness and friendship is a good one.

Huggins and Kisses


Huggins and Kisses by Susan Creighton, illustrated by Ron C Lipking, 1985.

Mary has been wanting a dog for some time. She admires her neighbor’s dog, Sugar, who is so well behaved.

When her parents finally give her the puppy she’s been wanting, Mary is thrilled, and names the puppy Kisses. However, taking care of a dog and training it turns out to be a lot more work than Mary expected! Kisses doesn’t know how to walk on a leash, and he sometimes chews things he shouldn’t.

One day, Mary gets angry with Kisses for ripping the arm off of her favorite doll and yells at him. While Kisses is hiding under Mary’s bed, and Mary is crying, one of the Hugga Bunch, Huggins, appears to comfort them. Mary is surprised to see Huggins, and she explains to Mary that she is from Huggaland, which can be reached through her bedroom mirror. She invites Mary to see it for herself, and Kisses follows them.


In Huggaland, Huggins repairs Mary’s doll, which makes her feel better. Then Kisses knocks over the birdbath at Huggins’s house, and Mary gets angry again. Huggins points out to Mary that Kisses hasn’t actually broken anything and that he was probably looking for water because he was thirsty. Huggins gives Kisses more water and a hug.

Mary asks Huggins how she can hug Kisses when he’s been bad, and Huggins explains the importance of gentle discipline. Dogs may be naughty sometimes, but what they really need is love and training. Mary just hasn’t been patient with Kisses and given him the time he needs to learn how to behave.

Mary remembers how much that she really loves Kisses and resolves to give him the time and attention he needs to learn to be a good dog.

It’s a cute picture book, and a nice story about learning to care for pets, giving them the training they need and the time to learn.

A Hugga Bunch Hello


A Hugga Bunch Hello by Phyllis Fair Cowell, illustrated by Ron C Lipking, 1985.

Bridget likes having her grandmother living with her and the rest of her family. Her grandmother always has time for her and is willing to give her a hug. Her parents are often too busy, her brother thinks hugs are just for girls, and her Aunt Ruth is too fussy.

Then, Aunt Ruth tries to persuade everyone that Bridget’s grandmother should go live in a nursing home. Bridget doesn’t want her grandmother to leave, but she doesn’t know what to do about it.

While she worries, a strange little person steps out of her bedroom mirror. This little person is Huggins, one of the Hugga Bunch. She says that she knows about Bridget’s problem and thinks that she can help. She invites Bridget to come with her to Huggaland.


In Huggaland, the Hugga Bunch take Bridget to see the Book Worm, who may have the solution that Bridget seeks. Both the Hugga Bunch and the Book Worm say that aging can be slowed by affection and “the knowledge that they are needed,” but Bridget thinks that the only solution is to find a way to actually make her grandmother young again.

The Book Worm says that if that’s what Bridget wants, then her grandmother must eat fruit from the Youngberry Tree. Unfortunately, the tree is in the territory of the Mad Queen of Quartz. Although the Hugga Bunch are afraid of her, Bridget is willing to face her for her grandmother’s sake.

Getting there involves going through a few obstacles, including walking sideways on a sideways sidewalk and facing a frightening beast who turns out to be a baby elephant who was under a spell. When they reach the tree, the mad queen takes them prisoner and turns Bridget into a statue. Fortunately, the others manage to break free and save her.


Bridget is happy at being able to bring the Youngberries to her grandmother, but as she passes through the mirror into her room, she accidentally drops them, and they disappear.

Not knowing what else to do, Bridget runs to give her grandmother a hug before she leaves, encouraging her brother to do the same. Bridget’s father wasn’t happy about her grandmother leaving, either, and seeing how much the children will miss her, he declares that she should stay.

This book was made into a made-for-tv movie.  It is currently available on YouTube.  It follows the plot of the book pretty closely.



Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, illustrated by Barbara Cooney, 1991.

This story is based on reminiscences from the author’s family about the games they and their friends played when they were children in Yuma, Arizona. The section in the back about the author and illustrator explains a little about it. The author was born in 1933. Her Aunt Frances (one of the children named in the story) was 80 years old when the creators of the book were writing the story and drawing the pictures, so she was born around 1910. That means that the children in the story probably made up their imaginary town and played in it in during the late 1910s and into the early 1920s. The clothes that the children wear in the pictures appear to be from around that time as well (some of the girls have dresses with dropped waists, and some of the children wear sailor-style outfits).

One of the great things about this book is the power of imagination. Readers are not only taken back in time to someone’s remembered childhood, but to the place that the children invented: a town that both isn’t there but yet always is because of the imaginations of the children who once played there.  The pictures in this book are beautiful!


A group of neighborhood friends living in a small town in Arizona play games on the edge of the desert. They make a town of their own from stones and old boxes and other things they find, naming it Roxaboxen. Marian, one of the oldest children, names the town and becomes its mayor.


Using stones, the children outline the streets, houses, and shops of their town. They sell things to each other, using little black stones for money, and decorate their “houses” with old bottles and bits of broken glass in different colors. Using other things they find, the kids pretend that they have cars and horses. There are rules against speeding in their “cars”, so they also appoint a policeman and create a “jail.” Sometimes, they have “wars”, boys against girls.


Time passes, but the children continue to play in Roxaboxen year after year, adding to the town and its lore. Even years later, when they’ve grown up and have moved to other places, Roxaboxen still lives in their minds. In a way, they said that their imaginary town always existed, just waiting for those with the imagination to see it, and through the story and illustrations in the book, it now draws in those who read about it but have never seen it themselves.


Another great thing about the book is the sense of freedom that the children have. Many modern children wouldn’t be able to go out on the edges of their town and build something for themselves in the same way that the children in the story did. Although, in the freedom of their own minds and their own backyards, maybe some kids are building their own Roxaboxens as we speak.


The Mystery of Sara Beth


The Mystery of Sara Beth by Polly Putnam, illustrated by Judith Friedman, 1981.

This was one of my favorite books when I was young. It’s a nice mystery story for children in early elementary school.

When a new girl named Sara Beth joins their class, Becky and her friends go out of their way to make her feel welcome. However, Sara Beth barely acknowledges their attempts to make friends with her.


Becky becomes concerned about Sara Beth and her lack of interest in making friends at school. Becky also notices some other odd things about Sara Beth’s behavior, which tends to change unexpectedly.  Sometimes, Sara Beth likes the class’s pet guinea pig, and sometimes she seems afraid of it.  One day, Becky catches Sara Beth taking a reading book home that was supposed to stay in the classroom.  Later, she sees Sara Beth hiding a cupcake from a class party to take home. Could these things help explain what Sara Beth is trying to hide?

The solution to Sara Beth’s problem is quite simple, but it may seem bigger to younger children. The story presents a good example of the use of observation and logical thinking when approaching a problem. As Becky tries to determine why Sara Beth acts the way she does, Becky watches her closely and makes a list of her observations before coming to her final conclusion.  Becky is not only compassionate toward Sara Beth in trying to help her solve her problem and make friends at her new school, but she is also a very logical thinker.  I really enjoyed her as a character!

The artwork in the book is nice, and I thought it was clever how the borders of all of the images kind of give a hint to Sara Beth’s problem.  Even when the characters are indoors, the pictures are surrounded by snow-covered trees because it’s important to the story that it takes place in winter.  The snow is the root of Sara Beth’s problem.  The girls live in a cold climate and “Sara Beth” comes from a poor family.

(Spoiler: Becky correctly realizes that “Sara Beth” is actually a set of twins, Sara and Beth, which is why they behave differently each time they switch places.  Their family moved to the area from a warmer climate because the twins’ father is looking for work, but they only had enough money for one warm coat for the girls, so one of them has to stay home while the other goes to school.  They take turns going to school, and the one that goes to school brings the other one books and school assignment and class treats so she can follow the lessons and not miss out.  When Becky confronts one of the twins, Beth, she admits that they were afraid of making friends at school because they knew that someone would find out the truth.  Becky persuades Beth to talk to their teacher, and the teacher arranges for the twins to receive an extra coat that was unclaimed from the school’s lost and found so that they can both come to school.)

In the back of the book, there’s a list of vocabulary words that appear in the story. It does not provide definitions for these words, though. I think that the most unusual words in the book were guinea pig and tetanus shot.

One more thing I thought that I would mention is that Becky, the main character, is African American. This is not mentioned at all in the text of the book and is not important to the story, but it is shown in the pictures.  I didn’t think about it much when I first read the book as a kid, but looking back on it, I found it interesting because it reminded me of the character of Adam in the Third Grade Ghosthunters series.  It fascinates me that there is something about these characters that people wouldn’t know without looking at the pictures, and I also like it that the characters themselves are not defined by race.  It’s just an interesting detail, not central to their characters.

Mailing May


Mailing May by Michael O. Tunnell, 1997.

Four-year-old Charlotte May lives in a small town in Idaho in 1914. May, as her family calls her, wants to visit her grandmother in another town, but travel during this time is difficult and expensive. With a lack of roads that are easy to travel, the only comfortable way to get to May’s grandmother’s town is by train. Unfortunately, May’s family can’t afford to buy a train ticket for her.


May wants so badly to go see her grandmother that she even asks at the local general store if the owner can hire her, but he doesn’t have any work that a little girl could do.  Then, May’s mother’s cousin helps the family to find a more affordable alternative. If May can’t travel as a passenger, is it possible for her to travel as . . . mail?


It turns out that the rate for mailing a live package the size of May is much cheaper than the fee for a passenger ticket.  Because May’s mother’s cousin works in the mail car on the train, he could take responsibility for her during the trip.  So, with a label on her clothes, declaring her to be “baby chicks” and the proper postage stuck to her jacket, May undertakes the journey to her unsuspecting grandmother’s house.



This story was based on a real incident. In fact, May wasn’t the only child to be sent through the mail when their parents couldn’t afford to sent them as passenger.


The Mysteries of Harris Burdick


The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg, 1984.

Harris Burdick isn’t exactly a mystery story, not even really a story exactly, but it is mysterious.  Most of the book is pictures, and that’s kind of the point.  The premise of the book is that a mysterious stranger known only as Harris Burdick approached a publisher about some stories that he had written and illustrated.  As examples of his work, he gave the publisher a collection of illustrations he had done for each of his stories with accompanying captions.  The publisher loved the illustrations, but Harris Burdick didn’t keep his appointment to bring in the complete stories the next day.  When the publisher tried to contact him about the stories, he was never able to find Harris Burdick and never heard from him again.  However, the publisher continued to be intrigued by the pictures and wondered what the stories were like, so his children and their friends wrote their own stories about them.  The pictures are therefore presented as a collection, and readers are invited to imagine the stories that they are part of.


I remember one of my teachers using this book as part of a writing exercise, having us each choose a picture and write the accompanying story as we imagined it.  Over the years, I’ve changed my mind about which picture is my favorite.


I thought for awhile that “The House on Maple Street” could have inspired the author himself in writing Zathura, the sequel to his other book, Jumanji, although there is apparently no direct link between the two.


There is a collection of stories called The Chronicles of Harris Burdick in which well-known authors present their own versions of each of the stories.




Zathura by Chris Van Allsburg, 2002.

This book begins where Jumanji ends. It’s not completely a sequel because it has a different set of children and a new game, but it’s connected because the two children from Jumanji left the board game in the park again after they finished it, and they saw two boys that they know pick it up and take it home.


However, the two boys, Danny and Walter, don’t end up playing the same jungle board game, Jumanji, that was in the previous book. They find a second board game in the Jumanji box called Zathura and decide to try it instead. Zathura is a space-themed game where players travel a path from Earth to the planet Zathura. Like in Jumanji, elements from the board game come to life as the boys play, and someone must reach the end in order to end the game.


Danny and Walter, a pair of brothers, fight a lot. Walter hates doing things with Danny. However, when Danny starts playing the game, sending their house into outer space, Walter must join in and play with his brother in order to bring the game to an end so they can go home. The two of them learn teamwork as they help each other face the dangers of the game while trying to reach Zathura.


There is a movie version of this book, but there are major differences between the original book and the movie. The conflicts between the two boys are similar in the book and the movie, but the movie added a subplot about the boys’ parents being divorced (they weren’t in the original book), an older sister for the boys (it was just the two of them originally), and a kind of alternate reality where the older boy was trapped in the game by himself for years because he wished his brother away before finishing the game until his alternate self realized that he cared about his brother and wanted to cooperate with him.  In the original book, nobody was trapped in the game.


Chris Van Allsburg illustrations are always good, although I have to admit that I preferred the illustrations in Jumanji to the ones in Zathura.  It just seems to me that the pictures in Jumanji were more detailed and realistic.




Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg, 1981.

Judy and Peter, a brother and sister, are left home alone while their parents go to an opera. In spite of their parents’ warning not to make a mess because they’ll be bringing guests by later, the kids scatter all of their toys around while playing. Then, the kids go to the park to play for awhile, and they find a board game labeled Jumanji with a note that the game is free to anyone who wants to play it. Judy and Peter decide to give the game a try and take it home.


Jumanji turns out to be a kind of race game. Players are supposed to make their way down a path through a jungle, facing all kinds of dangers, until someone reaches the golden city of Jumanji. The instructions warn them that once a game has begun, it will not be over until one of the players reaches Jumanji.


At first, Peter thinks that the game is boring and easy, but it soon becomes apparent that things that happen in the board game are starting to happen in real life when a live lion suddenly appears after an encounter with one on the game board.  Peter is scared and wants to stop playing, but Judy reminds him that they can’t stop because the game won’t end until one of them reaches the end of the path on the game board. Until the game ends, they’re stuck with the lion and anything else that happens to appear because of the game. They have no choice but to keep playing, facing each danger as wild animals rampage through their house.


Chris Van Allsburg books always have amazing illustrations, and the pictures in this book are especially good!  At the end of the book, the children see two other children find the game, which leads to the sequel, Zathura.


There is a movie version of this book, but the movie differs greatly from the original story. In the movie, the two kids were friends, not brother and sister, and the boy ends up trapped in the game for a period of years until, finally, a new set of kids starts playing and helps the original players to finish their game.  When their game ends, the original children are returned to their own time, and no one but them knows that they were ever gone.  Things turn out better for the future children as well because the older players make things better for everyone in their own time.  There were no players stuck in the game in the original book, and everything takes place during a single day.