The Jacob Ladder

The Jacob Ladder

by Gerald Hausman

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Twelve-year-old Tall T's life has just turned upside down. His father suddenly leaves the family after drinking a bowl of bewitched soup given him by the obeah woman who lives next door. With his father no longer with them, Tall T must be head of the house and help his mother take care of his five brothers and sisters. But earning money isn't easy in a small Jamaican… See more details below


Twelve-year-old Tall T's life has just turned upside down. His father suddenly leaves the family after drinking a bowl of bewitched soup given him by the obeah woman who lives next door. With his father no longer with them, Tall T must be head of the house and help his mother take care of his five brothers and sisters. But earning money isn't easy in a small Jamaican town. How can Tall T go to school and earn money at the same time? His mother tells him he must be like Jacob in the Bible -- Jacob who dreamed of miracles -- and Tall will need a miracle if he is to help his family survive. Luckily for him, miracles can come in unexpected forms.

Editorial Reviews

When his father abandons the family in Oracabessa, a small Jamaican village, twelve-year-old Tall-T quits school to earn money to feed his mother and five brothers and sisters. Tall-T struggles with his own confusion and sadness over his father's abandonment while trying to find ways to support his family. Eventually, Tall-T learns that there are others in the community who care about him, including Miss Patterson, the librarian who gives him books to read and helps him continue with his schooling. Tall-T finally proves to himself that he is a man and a leader when he climbs the Jacob Ladder, a fifty-foot wall with stairs cut into its side. Only a very few men, including Tall-T's father, have been able to climb the ladder using the hanging fig vines to pull themselves up the sheer cliff. The book is steeped in Jamaican lore and language. Readers immediately will lose themselves in the plight of Tall-T and his family, cheering for him when he climbs the ladder and triumphs over his obstacles. The story chronicles one of co-author Hinds's life experiences, and an afterword explains what happens to him and his family after this incident. The book contains a glossary of Jamaican words and phrases and an author's note explaining the roots of obeah, West African sorcery, which plays a major role in this story and is still practiced in parts of the Caribbean. This highly recommended quick read will appeal to younger teens. Glossary. VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P M J (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, Orchard/Scholastic, 128p, . Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Linda RobertsSOURCE: VOYA, June 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 2)
Children's Literature
"Mama Poon's magic seeps far and deep." It's her bowl of calaloo soup that bewitches Tall T's drinking, gambling father away from his family in the first place. This true, coming-of-age story brings Uton Hinds' Jamaican boyhood, complete with its complex mixture of joy and hardship, forcefully to life. Tall T is a twelve-year-old who suddenly finds himself head of household, embarrassed by poverty, and confused by conflicting feelings of shame and pride for his father. Taking refuge in the local library and in his own ingenuity, he learns that there are ways out. Perhaps his father should be loved, not blamed, for giving Tall T a place on earth. After all, it's up to Tall T, and no one else, to literally and figuratively climb the Jacob ladder and make something of his life. Love, faith and resourcefulness shine in this hopeful book where singing and hunger thrive side by side. Mango trees, voodoo and the rhythmic cadences of Jamaican speech give the story a rich sense of culture and place that make it an engaging novel, as well as a lively and rewarding choice for reading aloud. 2001, Orchard, $15.95. Ages 9 to 13. Reviewer: Betty Hicks
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-An autobiographical slice of Jamaican village life in the 1960s, based on co-author Hinds's boyhood experiences. Tall T watches his father, who has a weakness for alcohol and bone dice, pick up his suitcase and leave the family one day to go live next door in the home of the obeah (voodoo woman) and her flirtatious daughter. When Tall T's mother gathers the children to tell them, "Brothers and sisters stick together. They don't wash away like gully water," the theme and tone for this excellent book are established. Tall T is given the honor of marching with his father and the other Jonkonnu men on Christmas Day, yet his father ignores him. Lacking the money for proper school clothes, the boy escapes to the library, where he is befriended and tutored by a librarian. The book ends with Tall T making a literal and symbolic climb up the "Jacob Ladder" used by the banana workers to ascend from the boats in the sea, where he reaches a new level of understanding about love, family, human frailty, and his own resources. The characters are complex and real people; there are no good guys/bad guys here-not even the boy's father, whose behavior Tall T ultimately is able to put in perspective. Readers will be quickly drawn in by the protagonist's honest and questioning preadolescent voice. A compelling and vibrant book that will give young readers a real look into the Jamaica behind the postcard and cruise-ship images.-Ellen Vevier, Round Rock Independent School District, TX Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A fictionalized version of Hinds's childhood, he and Hausman have written a prose poem of a book that tells the story of a poor Jamaican boy who has to grow up real fast when his father suddenly abandons the family. Though he's only 12, protagonist Tall T is the dependable one in a family of six children, the one Iya, his mother, counts on, the one "who's expected to do more than anyone else." The story is simple—after his father's desertion, Tall T labors to continue learning, studying at the library because the school won't let a boy with such shabby clothing attend, and working at whatever odd jobs he can find to help put food on the table. In the course of the novel he struggles to come to terms with his ambivalent feelings about his father, a "rough, rough man" who has become a stranger to the family, "a stranger whom we have known all of our lives." Still, Tall T is proud when his father singles him out, offering him the honor of participating as the "devil's treasurer," the person responsible for gathering the coins the townsfolk throw at the dancers during the annual Jonkonnu ceremony. The language from the distinctive Jamaican dialect—"me no thief you," to the vivid descriptions, "He's fringed and fabulous . . . ablaze with tiny round mirrors, winking in the sun," is textured and luxuriant. Pulsating with exotic color, the story Hausman and Hinds have created is vibrant and heart-warming. (Fiction. 10-13)
School Journal
"A compelling and vibrant book."
Horn Book
"The novel has a triumphant tone."

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Product Details

Wilder Publications
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.28(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

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