HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Priscilla and the Hollyhocks
Author: Anne Broyles
Illustrator: Anna Alter
Publisher: Charlesbridge, 2008
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 6 – 9
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Broyles, Anne. Priscilla and the Hollyhocks (published in 2008 by Charlesbridge, 85 Main St., Watertown, MA 02472). We moved to Salem, IL, where we now live, in 2008. I always like to research historical sites in our area so that we can know more about their background when we visit them. Back in March of this year, we were at a concert in Benton, IL, and I picked up a booklet of information about attractions in surrounding Franklin County which mentioned the Silkwood Inn Museum at Mulkeytown. Just one week later, we were at the Southern Illinois Homeschool Conference where we sat down at a lunch table with a couple other families, one of which we learned was from Mulkeytown. I mentioned reading about the Silkwood Inn, and they told me the story behind it. They also said that a very good children’s book had been written about it. Priscilla and the Hollyhocks is that book.
Priscilla is a slave in the Big House on a Georgia plantation. She is only four years old when her mother is sold to another master. The only thing that she has to remember her mother by is the hollyhocks which she planted by the cow pond and used to make hollyhock dolls. A white businessman from Illinois named Basil Silkwood, who doesn’t hold to slavery, visits the plantation and instills in Priscilla a desire to attend school. However, at age ten, her master dies. Priscilla is sold to a Cherokee family and continues her life as a slave. She says, “Another plantation, same life.” Yet, she keeps hope for a better life alive by taking hollyhock seeds to plant. Then the Cherokees are forced on a grueling journey west, known as the 1838 “Trail of Tears.” Priscilla, carrying her hollyhock seeds, must go with them, but along the way in Illinois she again has a chance meeting with the compassionate Silkwood. What will he do? And what will happen to Priscilla?
Author Anne Broyles wrote, “Different versions of this story have been told, but a young slave named Priscilla did live out the events detailed in Priscilla and the Hollyhocks.” While the book introduces young readers, in an age appropriate way, to two aspects of our history that are less than stellar—slavery and mistreatment of the Indians—it really focuses on an act of human kindness and the hope which that act fostered. Basil Silkwood and his wife Mariah had no children of their own but raised sixteen adopted children, including Priscilla. Today, the home of the Silkwoods has been restored by the Mulkeytown Area Historical Society to its original exposed log structure, and is a historic site museum. Artist Anne Alter’s appealing acrylic illustrations, with both single and double page spreads, is reminiscent of folk art. There are also instructions for making hollyhock dolls.