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Pemba's Song: A Ghost Story
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Pemba's Song: A Ghost Story

by Marilyn Nelson, Tonya C. Hegamin

A Newbery Honor winner collaborates with a new writer in this hip-hop-inspired historical thriller.


A Newbery Honor winner collaborates with a new writer in this hip-hop-inspired historical thriller.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Claudia Mills
In this slim book, Nelson and Hegamin join forces to depict the powerful encounter between two girls separated by over two centuries. Pemba is a moody, disaffected, modern-day teen, forced by her widowed mother to move away from her lively life in Brooklyn to a centuries-old, long-abandoned house in a small town in Connecticut. Phyllys is a slave girl who once lived in the house, witness to a terrible and never prosecuted crime. What the two girls have in common is that they express their deepest and otherwise inexpressible feelings through poetry—and that each needs the other desperately. Pemba's first-person narration, written by Hegamin, makes up most of the book; three-time National Book Award finalist Nelson generates the subtle, slant-rhymed sonnets of Phyllys. The novel makes historical research seem urgent and riveting, as Pemba searches for answers to explain her communications with Phyllys by digging through the library archives of Colchester, Connecticut, together with its historian, Abraham (the real-life history buff who inspired these two authors to come together to write this book). And the novel makes poetry seem, not the stuff of an English class assignment, but the eloquent voice of real girls who communicate with each other across the divide of centuries. This is a highly original and striking collaboration. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
School Library Journal

Gr 7-10

Pemba, an African-American teen, doesn't want to make the move from Brooklyn to Connecticut no matter how rosy a picture her mother tries to paint. As soon as she sees her new home, she knows something isn't right. At first, she thinks she's imagining things, like the strange mirror that reflects the image of an 18th-century girl. But then the blackouts begin. During them Pemba sees Phyllys, a slave who lived in the house centuries before. Something horrible happened to her all those years ago and now she needs Pemba's help. Working with Abraham, an eccentric old man who lives nearby, Pemba must uncover the girl's story to finally put her to rest. Told through alternating chapters, poetry, and journal entries, this title is sure to appeal to fans of ghost stories as well as historical fiction. There are few ghost stories featuring African-American teens and fewer still that are as well written and interesting as this one. With its brevity, it will make an excellent choice for reluctant readers as well.-Ginny Collier, Dekalb County Public Library, Decatur, GA

Kirkus Reviews
A beautifully written, richly historical but too-quickly paced tale unfolds in two voices in this suspenseful ghost story. Fourteen-year-old Pemba is seriously angry with her mom for dragging her from her friends and their Brooklyn home to live in small-town Connecticut. When she encounters an old local man, Abraham, she is initially relieved to see another African-American in what she feared would be an all-white community. These feelings give way to annoyance when he suddenly seems to be everywhere, interfering in her life. Then she starts having haunting dreams and visions in which a young slave named Phyllys, who used to live in her house, fears for her life. Pemba is curious but terrified, and Abraham seems to be the one person who can help her. Nelson and Hegamin have crafted an intriguing mystery, and while their writing styles are very different, they share a lovely poetic feel. However, there is a persistent rushing of the narrative, with details emerging unnaturally fast, that detracts from the overall appeal of this novella. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.50(d)
730L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 Years

Meet the Author

Noted poet Marilyn Nelson is the author of several highly acclaimed and award-winning books for young readers. CARVER: A LIFE IN POEMS received a Newbery Honor medal, a Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, and a Coretta Scott King Honor citation. A WREATH FOR EMMETT TILL, also a book told in poetry, won a Printz Honor Award, a Coretta Scott King Honor, and a Boston Globe/Horn Book citation. Ms. Nelson is a multiple National Book Award finalist. Her forthcoming novel, PEMBA'S SONG, will be published in 2008, and her picture book, BEAUTIFUL BALLERINA, will publish in 2009 (both with Scholastic).

Tonya C. Hegamin is the author of MOST LOVED IN ALL THE WORLD and M+O 4EVR, both forthcoming from Houghton Mifflin Company. She received a B.A. in Poetry from the University of Pittsburgh and an MFA from The New School University. Tonya has worked as a social worker and teacher for teens in crises and has also taught poetry workshops to at-risk and incarcerated women. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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