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Most people don’t, but you will after reading Elliott’s book. (Hint: Riots, in which African Americans were driven from their homes.)
As a kid of the present day, Dayshaun watches the news with his mom, and knows about the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore. That knowledge gives him the background he needs to understand what is happening in 1863.
Sounds heavy–as any story about racism should be–but Elliott handles it all quite well. Dayshaun is like any kid–he wants to play with his electronic games–but he’s gotta help mom in the garden… Zetta Elliot. Keeping it real.
So far this is a great series for readers who are ready for a little more text, but aren’t ready for full blown chapter books yet. In other words, they’re transitional. And totally engaging. I’m not normally one for science fiction/fantasy in my books, but I know a lot of kids who are and, as I’ve found this year, there aren’t a lot of those books out there for them unless they are strong readers (most fantasy books seem to be damn thick books with small print, even in the middle grade section). Even fewer of the books available across the beginning chapter book market feature diverse kids or kids who live in urban settings (we didn’t all grow up on a farm or in a large house, myself included). There is a lot here to appeal to kids at the second/third grade level. I especially loved Dayshaun’s Gift. It was such a great time travel book and it took him back to a period of history that, despite taking American History three times in my school career, I never even heard mentioned. Dayshaun is such a kid, though, and he will feel very real and inviting to kids, even ones who might not pick up a books if there is a whiff of anything educational about it. This is one of the brilliant things about all Elliot’s books. She manages to open your eyes to something new and teach you about it without the books feeling didactic or breaking the story. Spoiler alert: Dayshaun does make it back to the present and he returns to the outhouse of the Weeksville historical village. Kids will LOVE that tiny detail. It’s times like these I feel very grateful that I am in charge of what books we buy and where we buy them from for our library. Elliot has self published many of her books and that makes it difficult for some libraries to buy her books. If you have any say, these would make an incredible addition to any library collection that serves kids starting out in chapter books.
Dayshaun and his Mom were volunteers for their community gardens at the Weeksville Heritage Center. It was a very hot summer day working in the garden. The sun was brutal. The only protection Dayshaun had was an old scruffy hat that belonged to his grandfather. It was better than nothing so he put it on. Suddenly, he felt nauseated and the garden began to spin. When he awoke his surroundings were very different.
Dayshaun realized, by talking with some local kids, that he had been mysteriously zoomed back in time. These new found friends, Susan and Teddy, tell him that it is the year 1863 and they are helping folks that were hurt during a riot. They show him the ways of their time. The friends are on their way to a camp where survivors are in need of food and shelter from what happened in Manhattan. Dayshaun learned about blacks fighting for equal rights. He learned a lot about the time, but will he ever get home?
Author Zetta Elliot takes readers back in time to learn about how African Americans stood up for freedom. Cartoon like illustrations by Alex Portal provide snippets of what people might have looked like during this rough period. This quick read will keep young readers engaged and looking forward to the next book in the series. Parents and teachers will approve.