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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Kwame Mbalia's middle grade fantasy novel Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky was named a 2020 Coretta Scott King (Author) Honor Book. It features characters and concepts from African and African American folklore, and presents storytelling as powerful magic. After main character Tristan, a 13-year-old African American rising eighth-grader in Chicago, travels to his garandparents' home in Alabama and accidentally enters a magical realm, he learns how to use his talent to end a war and save his allies. There are references to his best friend Eddie dying in a seventh grade bus accident. The level of violence in the mostly magical battles is low, neither scary nor bloody. But there are hordes of metallic stinging insects.
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- Kids say
What's the story?
As TRISTAN STRONG PUNCHES A HOLE IN THE SKY opens, Tristan is a rising eighth-grader still mourning the death of his best friend, Eddie, who died during a bus accident when the two boys were on a seventh grade field trip. He leaves his home in Chicago to spend a month at his grandparents' house in Alabama, taking with him Eddie's journal, given to him by Eddie's mom. When a strange doll-like creature steals the journal, Tristan follows it to his grandmother's magical Bottle Tree, which he punches in frustration, sending him into a magical realm populated by gods such as Anansi, Ayannna, and John Henry. Tristan's quest to return home leads him into a battle between awesome supernatural forces. Will he and his allies be able to defeat the forces of darkness and close the hole in the sky?
Is it any good?
This innovative fantasy expertly incorporates African and African American folklore into a contemporary middle grade novel. Author Kwame Mbalia has created a highly likable main character in Tristan, who's at first reluctant to be enmeshed in the magical battles but gradually accepts that his help is crucial to the cause. There's plenty of action, lots of humor, and chapters that end with a twist or a cliffhanger. Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky deserves praise for the ways it pays respect to African cultures, displaying their vitality and continuing relevance.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky depicts African and African American folklore. Why is storytelling important? Why has the folklore of some cultures received more exposure in popular culture than others?
Tristan is told to "man up" when he's sad about losing his friend Eddie. Why are boys sometimes told not to express their emotions? Is there a right or wrong way to grieve?
How did slavery affect African American folklore? How do some of the folktales emphasize the fear of captivity and the hope of freedom?
- Author: Kwame Mbalia
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Great Boy Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
- Publication date: October 15, 2019
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 496
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Awards: ALA Best and Notable Books, Coretta Scott King Medal and Honors
- Last updated: August 18, 2020
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