Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
I am so grateful that there are some truly great writers out there writing books for children. Many are celebrated adult authors such as Alexander McCall Smith and Ursula LeGuin (I love Catwings, sigh). But now my new favorite children’s author is Laurie Halse Anderson. Thank you, thank you, thank you for making great literature for my children to read.
I just finished her Newberry Award winning book Chains. And, while the book is fantastic, it has also left me contemplating what is the right age for my daughters to read it. Having read Ms. Anderson’s Vet Volunteer series, my 3rd grade daughter is eager to read Chains. However, my protective side is hesitant to let her see some of the truly horrific things that happened to slaves during the founding of this country.
The irony of a people simultaneously fighting to be free while enslaving others is the central theme of this story. However, ‘irony’ is really a much too gentle word, as the story graphically portrays the painful injustice and violence that was inflicted on slaves. Isabel, a 13 year-old orphan, is sold off to a cruel couple who not only abuses her, but also separates her from her disabled toddler sister. The book is also quite explicit in illustrating the uglier sides of war, including the painful starvation of many prisoners of war.
Ultimately, I turned to my neighbor for advice who wisely told me that this is exactly the kind of book to read with your child. While the writing is smooth and relatively easy (a 4th grade reading level), the themes are complex and perfect for discussion. While I would say this still is not a book for a sensitive child, it is a great book to read with your children to help them understand how far this country has come.