You know when sometimes a book is so well written that you can see the movie in your head as you’re reading it? THIS is that book. My boys were literally staring at me as if it was movie night and I was a 60 inch screen with surround sound. It might have had a bit to do with the voices I give each character, but I’d say that it’s mostly to do with how Kwame Mbalia uses words like a paint brush to create the incredible, mystical, hilarious and adventurous world of Tristan Strong. Seventh-grader Tristan Strong doesn’t feel anything like his last name describes. Ever since his best friend Eddie died in a bus accident, he blames himself for not being able to save him. The only thing that remains of their friendship is Eddie’s brown leather journal that he wrote stories in. To help him with his grief, Tristan’s going to spend a month on his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, and he isn’t looking forward to it at all. The story gets off to hilarious and exciting start on his first night there, when a sticky and feisty character shows up to steal Eddie’s journal. There’s a chase and a tug-of-war that ensues between them underneath a “Bottle Tree”. Finally, while trying to wrestle the journal out of the creature’s hands, Tristan accidentally gets thrown into an open a chasm, leading them into the MidPass. It’s a turbulent and eruptive place where haunted ships sail in a turbulent sea that is on fire, and the inhabitants of this world are hunted by metallic monsters. Tristan ends up in the middle of a battle fighting alongside Black American folklore heroes John Henry and Brer Rabbit. To get back home to his grandparents’s farm, Tristan along with his new allies, will need to convince Anansi the Weaver, to repair the damage that was done. But when dealing with Anansi, there’s always a price to be paid. Finding out if Tristan makes it will keep you and your kids on the edge of your seats.
This is a great story for Black children (especially boys) for obvious reasons. Seeing themselves depicted as heroes pours into them having a healthy self image. Kids also love the folklore. Meshing our modern times with the fabled characters of our elders is genius. My eldest son read the entire book (482 pages) in 3 days, with no screen based intermissions. He also begged me to purchase Volume 2 as soon as it was available this past October (review post coming shortly). I really really enjoyed this book just as much as my kids did. I definitely recommend it for bedtime, reading hour or anytime you want to spark up a great conversation with your kids. If you are looking for a great gift not just for the holidays but for any occasion at all, this book series by Kwame Mbalia is it.
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