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The Sittin' Up



Elder's death unites community in sweet historical novel.

What parents need to know

Educational value

As historical fiction, The Sittin' Up educates kids on the changing ways of the Deep South in the early 20th century and the custom of "sitting up" with the dead prior to a funeral.

Positive messages

Community, responsibility, forgiveness, and equality are central themes. The book offers nuggets of wisdom on how to love people through their faults and why it's important to take an active role in your community for the betterment of society.

Positive role models

Many positive role models serve as voices of truth and reason, including one character who's actually dead but dominates the story through other people's memories of his wisdom. The adult characters are caring and considerate of the child characters -- and also teach good manners. The child characters are unusually reflective and self-aware, perhaps due to the period and circumstances. 


Threatening kids with "whuppings" is common, although they never come to pass. One man dies of old age, another man dies in a flood, and stories tell of multiple people drowning in a river, but these events appear mostly as memories with more emotional resonance than detailed description. Characters discuss the horrific conditions of slavery but without disturbing details. Two men get into a fight; one shows signs of a black eye.


A woman is pregnant, and a young character remarks on how pregnancy's never discussed with children. Characters discuss men "running around" with multiple women; a new woman in town scandalously wears red dresses while keeping company with men. Realizing that he may like his childhood friend in a different way, a young boy hopes to someday take her to a dance and marry her.


Most of the book's language reflects the time of the story. Some of it's hateful, as when discussing the "whites only" signs in the town's stores and an incident where people are called the "N" word, but it accurately reflects the period. A woman is called a sinner for wearing red, drinking, and selling alcohol to men.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Tobacco farming and smoking are shown, accurately reflecting the time. A woman is described as selling alcohol; a man arrives drunk at a wake and later drowns because he's too drunk to follow the instructions that would save his life.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Sittin' Up, set in the Deep South in the 1940s, concerns a community's mourning of a beloved man and may bring up questions about death, its aftermath, and different cultures' funeral customs. Since the departed was the last survivor of slavery in a small African-American community in the South, the story also may prompt discussion of the issues facing black people in the years following the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. Most issues the book raises offer a teaching moment.

What's the story?

Mr. Brother Wiley, the oldest living former slave in the county, has died, leaving the town without a treasured, quiet hero and a boy named Bean without the man who served as the only grandfather he can remember. Bean, his family, and his best friend, a sassy girl named Pole, come to terms with how Mr. Brother Wiley's life affected the entire community. They also face the challenge of bringing the community together to mourn -- while preparing for a threatening storm. The \"sittin' up\" (vigil) for Mr. Brother Wiley is the first Bean and Pole have been old enough to attend, and they're hoping they can honor Mr. Brother Wiley before the storm sends them all to a premature reunion in the hereafter.

Is it any good?


THE SITTIN' UP offers a colorful, engaging look through one young boy's eyes at a community grappling with changing societal norms, a beloved elder's death, and a devastating storm. Readers unfamiliar with the dialect may need to get accustomed to the narrative voice, but author Shelia P. Moses does a wonderful job of capturing the emotions of each moment in authentic language. The book's meandering pace seems slow and a bit stagnant, like a hot summer afternoon, when anticipation for an upcoming event runs high.

The book's unabashed sweetness will resonate with teens and parents, while younger readers may not relate to certain coming-of-age struggles. The story offers plenty of conflicts -- two deaths, Jim Crow South issues, and a terrifying life-or-death struggle against a raging storm -- but also a quiet, undramatic realness.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about funerals and whether the way they're portrayed in the media is the same as the traditions you're familiar with. How does your family honor the memories of loved ones who've passed away?

  • What does it mean to be a part of a community? How do members of your community take care of each other? Are there any special activities or events that bring everyone together?

  • The Sittin' Up shows several men and boys crying in reaction to the death of a beloved old friend. How does this compare with today's social expectations about men and boys showing emotions other than anger? Is it fair to say that men don't cry?

Book details

Author:Shelia P. Moses
Genre:Historical Fiction
Topics:Friendship, History
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Putnam Juvenile
Publication date:January 9, 2014
Number of pages:240
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 17
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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