Sunday, January 5, 2014
Review: The Sittin' Up
Author: Sheila P. Moses
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Availability: January 9, 2014
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Review: This title caught my attention - a middle grade book about children sitting with a dead body? I almost didn't believe it, but that's exactly what Sheila P. Moses wrote. In The Sittin' Up, Mr. Bro. Wiley, a revered man in the Low Meadow community, dies and the story is about what the community does to honor his life and death.
The main characters are two young friends, Bean and Pole. As you can see, though this book is about death, there are also reasons to smile. There are certainly many tears, but the story goes way beyond the tears. Bean is sad about the death of a beloved man who had become his adopted grandfather, but he is also scared and excited about the prospect of sittin' up with Mr. Bro Wiley like the adults. This is the first time he is old enough to participate. There are also moments of hilarity as so many personalities get together in a highly emotional state.
The Sittin' Up also has rich language. When I was a child, I loved reading dialect aloud. It can help the reader feel that they have stepped into another time and place. This could be a bit of a problem for young readers though. Even Mr. Bro. Wiley's name was a little puzzling. I assumed that Bro. stands for Brother, but I could be wrong. His given name is Mr. George Lewis Wiley so it isn't an abbreviation for his name. I never saw an explanation in the ARC though. I wondered if children would make that connection.
What I loved about the book was seeing the community and how they interacted with each other. This is a group of people that knows each other thoroughly. They are a small community so they know the good the bad and the ugly and yet they help each other just the same. I also appreciated the history that is shown. Mr. Bro. Wiley is the last person in the Low Meadow that had been a slave. He had shared his experiences with Bean and Pole. He also shared his hopes for a time when things would be different - when black and white people would be able to get along.
As I read, I kept wondering which students would read this book on their own. This might be one that would be best as a class read-aloud due to the dialect and some of the context that might need to be provided. I appreciated that this book addressed slavery, but was also about a time and event that isn't often shared in children's literature. There would be plenty of opportunity for lively discussion.