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Precious Bones

Precious Bones

5.0 9
by Mika Ashley-Hollinger

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Meet ten-year-old Bones, whose playground is the Florida swamps, brimming with mystical witches, black bears, alligators and bobcats. Bones' father, Nolay, a Miccosukee Indian, is smart and mischievous. Her Mama, practical as corn bread, can see straight into Bones' soul.

It's summer, and Bones is busy hunting and fishing with her best friend, Little Man. But then


Meet ten-year-old Bones, whose playground is the Florida swamps, brimming with mystical witches, black bears, alligators and bobcats. Bones' father, Nolay, a Miccosukee Indian, is smart and mischievous. Her Mama, practical as corn bread, can see straight into Bones' soul.

It's summer, and Bones is busy hunting and fishing with her best friend, Little Man. But then two Yankee real estate agents trespass on her family's land, and Nolay scares them off with his gun. When a storm blows in and Bones and Little Man uncover something horrible at the edge of the Loo-chee swamp, the evidence of foul play points to Nolay. The only person that can help Nolay is Sheriff LeRoy, who's as slow as pond water. Bones is determined to take matters into her own hands. If it takes a miracle, then a miracle is what she will deliver.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ashley-Hollinger’s debut is saturated with rich, authentic images drawn from her childhood in Florida. In 1949, 10-year-old Bones; her spirited and unpredictable father, Nolay; and her pragmatic mother live an idyllic life on the edge of the Everglades—who needs electricity when you have a house full of animals (including a pet pig and raccoon), a protective best friend, and a mysterious swamp to explore? When two Yankee men attempt to buy the family’s land, Nolay, who is part Miccosukee Indian, threatens them; soon after, one of the men and a neighbor are found murdered, and Nolay is the prime suspect. Bones starts questioning her father’s character and investigating on her own. The author is perhaps a bit too fond of ending chapters with portentous lines to drive the story forward (“Answers to all my questions were laying right around the corner, but they wouldn’t be the ones I wanted to hear”), but that’s a quibble in a bighearted, gracefully written, and atmospheric mystery. It’s Bones’s narrative voice, folksy and true, that gives this story its heart. Ages 9–12. Agent: Catherine Drayton, InkWell Management. (May)
School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—Set in Florida in 1949, this coming-of-age story is Southern Gothic for the middle-grade crowd. Bones's idyllic life in the swamps with her parents is uprooted when an out of towner is found murdered and her father is the prime suspect. The 10-year-old's narration imbues the book with a folksy, down-home flavor reminiscent of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Shiloh (Atheneum, 1991). However, the overuse of the Southern vernacular occasionally grates, especially with regard to the dialogue. Although the narrative is built around a murder, at the heart of the book is the protagonist's maturation process; like an age-appropriate To Kill a Mockingbird, it's Bones's interactions with well-developed, often-eccentric characters that shape this story. There's the reclusive but good-hearted Miss Eunice (a Boo Radley-esque character who Bones initially suspects is a witch due to her father's wild stories); Mr. Speed, a young man left physically and emotionally battered after the war, and Bones's unpredictable but loving half Native American father. Issues of race and gender are explored in a cursory way as well, but there's plenty of fun mixed in to keep the mood from getting too heavy, such as the child's adventures in the swamp with her best friend, Little Man. Though the story's resolution is somewhat predictable, many readers will find it wholly satisfying.—Mahnaz Dar, formerly at Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City
Kirkus Reviews
It is 1949, and the traditional way of life in the swampland of Atlantic-coast Florida is threatened. Ten-year-old Bones and her family live a life governed by awareness of the land and the measured pace of the seasons. They are not cut off from modern life, but it's encroaching rapidly. When a land speculator and a neighbor are murdered, offstage, Bones' father becomes a prime suspect because of his encounters with them. The plot weaves around the investigation but focuses mainly upon Bones, who is at once innocent and wise, trusting and skeptical, fearful and accepting. Her voice is strong and lyrical, mixing regional syntax and dialect with lovely descriptions of the beauty she sees as she hunts, fishes, observes and explores in this mystical place. She cares for every creature that comes her way and learns lessons of neighborliness and generosity from the example set by her parents. Finely drawn supporting characters add richness and warmth. But there are also the harsh realities: one family's vicious cruelties, hurtful laws and prejudices that prevent natural friendships, the death of a beloved neighbor and the ever-present dangers of nature itself. A satisfying conclusion leads to a happy celebration for everyone. A spirited tale and fascinating setting, but it is Bones who shines. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Storm

The sweltering month of July was gradually melting into August. Baby alligators were busy pecking their way out of their eggs when the biggest storm of the summer of 1949 blew into our lives. I was standing in the middle of our living room floor, cool brown water swirling over my feet and reaching nearly to the tops of my skinny ten-year-old ankles. The morning sun was just peeking in through our picture window, painting shiny rainbows across the water's dull surface.

My daddy, Nolay, paced slowly from one end of the room to the other. He was just as barefooted as me because there was no reason to be wearing shoes inside your house when it was full of water. Each small step sent ripples of coffee-colored water circling around the legs of what pieces of furniture we hadn't stacked on top of each other. Nolay solemnly raised his arms in the air and declared, "We live in the womb of the world! It's the womb of the world. Any fool can see it's God's womb of the world!"

Like a contented cat, Mama was curled up on the couch. I don't think she was really that contented, she just didn't have any choice but to sit there. Her slender arms wrapped around her legs and hugged them close to her body. Her head rested on her knees; only her eyes moved back and forth as she watched my daddy's every move.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw something dark and shiny slither along the side of the wall right behind the couch. I kept my mouth shut, because if there was one thing Mama didn't like, especially inside her house, it was snakes.

I was not quite sure what a womb was, but if Nolay said we lived in one, then it must be true. My daddy was about the smartest man I ever did know. I hadn't met very many men, but of the ones I had, he was about the smartest. He was a true man of vision.

He'd had the vision to nestle our house between a glorious Florida swamp and a long stretch of sandy scrub palmetto laced with majestic old pines. Although Mama often pointed out that his vision blurred when it came to the exact location. "If you had put this house a hundred yards closer to the county road we would have electricity. We would have a icebox and a sewing machine," Mama would say.

Nolay would shake his shaggy black curls and reply, "Lori, Honey Girl, you know I don't want to be any closer to that dang county road!"

Honey Girl was my daddy's nickname for Mama because her blond hair dripped down her back and around her shoulders like golden honey.

"If I could, I would have put us on a float right out in the middle of the swamp. But don't you fret, one day I'll buy my own durn electric poles and stick 'em in the ground myself."

But Mama couldn't deny that Nolay had had the vision to build our house on a strip of land at least a foot above water level. It only flooded when the heavy summer rains came. It really wasn't that bad; sometimes the water just seeped in and covered our floor with a fine, shiny mist.

Our house also had a flat tar-paper roof because, as Nolay had explained, "No matter how big a storm comes through, this roof will stay put. You go puttin' one of those pointed roofs on and sure as shootin' the first hurricane will take it off. Same thing goes for puttin' your house up on stilts." Yes, sir, Nolay was a true man of vision.

At any rate, all the excitement had started the day before. Me and Mama had just returned from a Saturday trip to town and were inside the house putting away groceries when Nolay called us.

"Honey Girl, Bones, y'all come on out here and take a look at this." He was standing in the yard looking east. That was where the Atlantic Ocean lived, and most of our storms came from that direction.

What I saw filled up the horizon. It looked like a massive black jellyfish. The cloud floated just above the ground and moved with fierce intent, heading directly toward us. The three of us stood like fence posts until Nolay said, "That's a mighty big storm coming our way. Y'all get the animals inside the house."

Me and Mama sprang to life, called the dogs, and looked for the cats. Half an hour later I made a final count: three dogs, five cats, one raccoon, one pig, and one goat, everyone accounted for. As I ran out the door I yelled over my shoulder, "Mama, I'm goin' out to help Nolay."

Nolay had just closed the door to the chicken coop. Old Ikibob Rooster sensed something was up and already had his brood cornered in one end of the coop. By the time we headed for the house, that jellyfish cloud was nearly on top of us. It hungrily gobbled up the silver-blue day and turned it into gloomy darkness.

As it hovered above us, it looked as if God reached his long pointy-finger down from heaven and ripped a huge gash in the stomach of that jellyfish. Gray sheets of water fell furiously to the ground. Cannonballs of thunder crashed and rolled angrily over the swamps. Like gigantic knives, silver streaks of lightning sliced through the darkness and stabbed the earth.

Me and all the animals were wide-eyed and looking for something to crawl under. Except for the flashes of lightning and the soft flicker of our kerosene lamps, our house was as black as the inside of a cow. I had never been inside a cow, but I imagined this was how totally dark it would be.

Our summer storms usually dumped a ton of water in the swamps. Water was precious to swamps; they needed it to stay alive. Sometimes a thin layer of water would run through our house, but this storm was big, and it was angry. The swamp quickly filled and began to leak out over its shallow edges. The little sliver of land our house sat on was soaked up like a dirty dishrag. Swamp water, along with some of its inhabitants, seeped under doorways and through cracks and crannies. Water came from every direction; it slid down the sides of our walls and dripped from the ceiling in endless streams.

Nolay began to bark out instructions. "Stack up them chairs, put a quilt on the table and get the cats up there, put the dogs in our bed, get the pig and goat into the washtub! Bones, do something with that dang crazy raccoon!"

When the three of us sat huddled together on the couch, Nolay murmured, "Don't worry about nothing, it's just a little water. It's just a storm, a big storm, but it's not a hurricane. The roof will stay on."

It was too wet and too dark for us to make it to a bedroom, so we decided it was best to just stay put right there on the couch. Nestled between the two of them, I fell asleep with the assurance that Nolay knew about hurricanes. The one in 1935 had blown his family home clear down to the ground. That house sat not ten feet away from the very spot we were at right now. About the only thing left was a pile of bricks where the chimney had stood, the artesian well that we still got our water from, and a mammoth mango tree.

On occasion, when things would get out of hand, like they were right now, Mama would look over to Nolay and say, "Why did you build our house next to one that blew down in a storm? You could have put us on higher ground."

But my daddy, with his vision and truthfulness, would reply, "Because this is where my home is and always will be. Don't worry, Honey Girl, I guarantee this house ain't gonna blow down."

Nolay's real name was Seminole, but no one ever called him that. His daddy, who was Miccosukee Indian, named him in honor of their kindred tribe. Nolay lived up to the true meaning of his name, which was "runaway; wild one."

All night long that storm pounded us with huge fists of water. At the break of dawn, as we waded through our living room, the first words out of Nolay's mouth were "Well, am I right or am I right? I said the dang roof would stay on, and it did!"

Nolay was right about the roof staying on, and it wouldn't be a concern any longer. Our real troubles would be coming all too soon.

Saving the Day

Mama refused to get off the couch, even after Nolay offered her a piggyback ride. She hugged her legs close to her body and kept her chin on her knees. She was not about to stick her feet in that dirty brown water. Just as Mama turned her head sideways, a little black snake wriggled along the side of the wall. She pointed and said, "My goodness, what is that? Is that a snake inside our house?"

I quickly waded over to it. "It's only a baby. It's scared and it's just trying to find its way back outside."

Mama groaned. "And I want it to go back outside." She looked at Nolay. "What else has the womb of the world dumped inside our house?"

"Lori, that's just a little ol' baby, it squeezed in through a crack. Don't worry; they ain't nothing in here but some harmless water."

I crept behind the couch and gingerly picked the snake up by its slippery little tail. I turned to Mama and said, "Look, Mama, it ain't much bigger than a fat old fishin' worm. It's probably one of Old Blackie's babies. I'll just take it outside where it belongs." Blackie was our resident blacksnake. She lived in the giant mango tree in our backyard.

Armed with Crisco cans and mason jars, I was ready to go outside and catch the bounty of tadpoles, minnows, and whatever else the swamp had spilled out on our driveway. Or what we called our driveway; it was actually a two-rut dirt road with ditches cut in on both sides. After every big summer rain I took it on myself to go out and catch as many living things as I could and dump them into the pond in our front yard. Of course, a fair amount of the creatures I would be picking up that day came from the pond in our front yard, but I felt it was my duty to save as many as I could.

With a great display of authority I dropped the pathetic little snake in my Crisco can and made my way to the front door. I whistled, and our three dogs, Nippy the raccoon, and Pearl the pig almost knocked me down as they clambered toward the door. Harry the goat had made himself quite comfortable in the washtub, his head hung over the rim and his big glassy eyes looking forlornly in my direction.

I strapped my trusty Roy Rogers cap pistols around my waist and opened the front door. I was getting too old to still be playing with cap pistols, but they just felt like a couple of friends hanging out with me. Nolay called out, "Bones, you watch out for snakes. Take a hoe or machete with you. They bound to be lookin' for dry land. And keep your eye on those dang dogs; the fools will stick their nose right on top of a snake."

"Yes, sir, Nolay, I'll look out for 'em."

Outside, the road was spotted with mud puddles full of minnows and tadpoles. Barefooted, I waded very gingerly through the brown water, just in case there was a snake laying around. The thirsty Florida sun had already begun to suck up huge amounts of precious water. As the puddles dried, the helpless little creatures were left to die a slow death in the heat.

I found the perfect spot and started building sand dams to reroute the water and trap the critters. Nippy ran happily from puddle to puddle and snatched up minnows and tadpoles. She would squat down on her haunches and with her little humanlike hands devour the critters like pieces of candy. I knew I couldn't interfere. Nolay had told me, "That's the way God set up nature; one day you're sittin' at the dinner table and the next day you might be on it."

Pearl dug a mudhole by some twisted palmetto roots and the dogs romped through the tangled scrub pines. I had nearly filled a whole Crisco can with squirmy things ready to be set loose in our big front pond, when I heard a gunshot ring out from the direction of our house.

I turned and ran as fast as I could back to the house. The dogs followed in hot pursuit. One of the dogs, Paddlefoot, smashed through my dams and sent cans and jars full of saved creatures wriggling out over the dry sand.

Breathlessly, I opened the door and stepped inside our living room. Mama stood on top of the couch, her little pearl-handled .32 revolver in her hand. Nolay was in front of her, a dead cottonmouth moccasin laying on the floor between them. He picked it up and held it by its tail. Part of the snake's body still curled on the floor; a trickle of blood flowed from its head and swirled out into the glossy brown water.

Nolay looked the body up and down and calmly said, "Well, I got to admit, that is a mighty big snake. Bigger than me, gotta be over six feet."

Mama stood still as a stone on the couch, the pistol pointed in the direction of the snake and Nolay.

Nolay said, "Honey Girl, you are one dead-eyed shot. Look at this, right through the head." He cleared his throat. "You might want to put that gun down. This snake cain't get no more deader than it is right now."

Mama moved her eyes from the snake to the gun; a look of puzzlement crossed her face. She slowly sat back down on the couch and placed the gun by her side.

Nolay glanced at me, then back to Mama. "I tell you what, Honey Girl, I'll go bring ol' Ikibob inside the house. I guarantee if there's any snakes left in here, he'll hunt 'em down. If there's one thing that ol' rooster don't like, it's a snake." He turned and walked out of the house, dragging the dead snake behind him. "Bones, you stay here with your mama."

I looked at Mama curled up on the couch. "Mama, if it's all right, I gotta get back outside. Paddlefoot knocked over all my cans and everything is out there drying up to death."

Meet the Author

MIKA ASHLEY-HOLLINGER grew up in the Florida swamps in the tiny community of Micco and now lives in Hawaii where she runs an exotic plants landscaping business. This is her first novel.

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Precious Bones 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Bonnie62 More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed the story line. This would be good summer reading for children and adults. Once I started reading I did not want to put it down. I had to order the book but hope Barnes & Noble will put it on the shelves.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a must read ! It touches all your emotion's. Great character's set in a portal of time that depicts Florida's mighty swamps before it's current demise.
poinsettia More than 1 year ago
Great story telling, well written. I loved this book. Bones and Little Man and their family and friends are characters you won't forget. I feel like the curtains of time and culture were drawn back and I got to see life in the Florida swamplands 50 years ago. A very interesting book. A joy to read.
Literary_Classics_Reviews More than 1 year ago
Occasionally we come across a book which transports us to another time or place as it feeds the mind and nurtures the soul; Precious Bones is one of those joyously rare literary finds.      Precious Bones is the entrancing story of Bones, a ten year old girl growing up in the swamplands of Florida in the 1940s.  In this, her debut novel, Author Mika Ashley-Hollinger has conjured up a vividly colorful cast of characters that nearly saunter off the pages of her book to take up residence in the hearts of its readers.  Bones is a bright girl who isn't afraid of much.  But when her daddy is put in jail on charges of murder, she's afraid it will take a miracle to set him free.  With wide-eyed curiosity and wiser-than-her-years introspection, she resolves to get answers and find her own miracles.     Growing up in a small town, steeped in culture and folklore, she is embraced by a community which nurtures her inquisitive nature. Bones and her best-friend do a little sleuthing of their own as they search for evidence that will absolve her father of any wrong-doing.  Along the way she learns that sometimes one must search beneath the surface of things to find real truth . . . and that things aren't always as they seem. Precious Bones is a book that will intrigue and delight readers of all ages and is sure to become a timeless classic.  This book has earned the Literary Classics Seal of Approval and is highly recommended for home and school libraries.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. I highly recomend. You need to get this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Due to the fact this book only has 7 ratings, I am guessing it has been overlooked quite a bit. But that is certainky a mistake! This book will make you fall in love with Bones' sweet personality and innocent curiosity. Her lifestyle is as unique her nickname, which fits her better the more you read. It is a great mystery, seen through one of the most creative viewpoints ever. I highly reccomend!!
Skiddoodle2 More than 1 year ago
Though I've never been to the Florida swamps - let alone in 1949 - Mika Ashley-Hollinger totally transported me there, into the life of 10 year old Bones and her small family and community of fellow edge-of-swamp dwellers. I felt as though I was 10 again, following Bones past muddy ponds and palmetto roots and listening to her narrate the events that gradually endanger the slow, earthy existence she loves, threatening to break it apart. This book is full of delightful characters - from Bones's adored daddy Nolay, her friend Little Man, and war veteran Speed - as well as some shady and unpleasant ones. Bones's voice is flawlessly authentic, and every detail of the story is visceral and heartfelt. I enjoyed every minute of it, and though I finished it a couple of weeks ago, its atmosphere stays with me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book took me three days to read was so addicted to it i really loved it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago