A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dear Hank Williams is a novel told in the form of fictional letters to the country-and-western legend from 11-year-old Tate P. Ellerbee, as part of a school pen pal assignment. Tate is living with her great-aunt in post-World War II Louisiana, and she pours her heart out to Williams over the course of a school year, despite getting nothing more than multiple autographed pictures in return. Race is a central theme as Tate struggles to make sense of a world where they don’t drive to the "colored" part of town and Japanese people are considered enemies. Tate is lonely but optimistic, and hope bubbles under the surface of every letter as she dreams of a better life. Though some readers may take heart in Tate's unwavering cheerful attitude, younger or more sensitive readers may have difficulties absorbing some of the more tragic elements of Tate's life, including the death of a beloved family member.
What's the story?
When Tate P. Ellerbee gets a school assignment to write to a pen pal, she chooses singer Hank Williams, who at the time is just starting to gain popularity. Tate continues to write to him and pepper him with questions about his life, even though she never hears back from him, except to receive multiple signed autographs. Tate uses her letters as a type of diary, first making up stories about her life (about adventures she has with her little brother Frog as they await the return of their movie star mother and world-famous photographer father) and ultimately revealing the truth behind her difficult childhood, which includes an incarcerated mother and absent father. Tate's writing becomes a form of therapy as she works through difficult social situations at school and her loneliness at home with her great-aunt.
Is it any good?
DEAR HANK WILLIAMS is a fascinating glimpse into 1940s America, as characters struggle with shedding prejudices and readers get a sense that prosperity is on the horizon. Tate's letters are written in a slang typical of the time, and her friendliness and excitement are contagious. Most readers will empathize with Tate as she struggles to become a better singer and find her lost dog.
Younger and sensitive readers may have trouble handling some of the more tragic aspects of Tate's life. But her optimism through it all is inspiring.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Tate chooses Hank Williams as her pen pal and continues to write to him despite never receiving any letters in return. What does Tate get out of this assignment?
How did you like reading a whole book written in letters? Do you think it was an effective way to get to know the main character?
Have you ever had a pen pal? Who would be your ideal pen pal, if you could choose one?
- Author: Kimberly Willis Holt
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, History, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Henry Holt & Company, Inc.
- Publication date: April 14, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 12
- Number of pages: 224
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
For kids who love family and coming-of-age stories
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.