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The Terrible, Wonderful Tellin' at Hog Hammock

The Terrible, Wonderful Tellin' at Hog Hammock

by Kim Siegleson, Eric Velasquez (Illustrator)

"Oree can go to the tellin' for this family," his grandmother said thoughtfully. "He do have the gift his grandpa left him. " Jonas almost choked on a piece of biscuit.

No one called him Oree anymore except for his grandmother-and Jonas knew that she meant serious business when she used his Gullah name. If his grandmother decided it was so, Jonas would


"Oree can go to the tellin' for this family," his grandmother said thoughtfully. "He do have the gift his grandpa left him. " Jonas almost choked on a piece of biscuit.

No one called him Oree anymore except for his grandmother-and Jonas knew that she meant serious business when she used his Gullah name. If his grandmother decided it was so, Jonas would have to represent the family at the local tellin'-even if he didn't want to.

Grandfather had been the best storyteller on Sapelo Island. And Jonas isn't sure that he inherited the family "gift for de lie." On the night of the big tellin', Jonas finally discovers the true meaning of his grandfather's special gift. What does happen on that fateful night surprises everyone!

With warm, quiet humor, Kim Siegelson weaves a touching tale about a young boyfinding his place in Sapelo Island's Gullah community.

Author Biography: Kim Siegelson won The Center for Multicultural Children's Literature Writing Award (1994) for this first novel. She lives in Clarkson, GA.

Eric Velasquez has illustrated numerous childrenís books including Chain of Fire and Journey to Joíburg: A South African Story, both by Beverly Naidoo. He lives in New York City.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 4-6On Sapelo Island, off the coast of Georgia, young Jonas is the child of modern-day Gullah people whose livelihood depends on the basket-making trade of the women and the off-island mill work of the men. Jonas is grappling with loss and guilt over the death of his grandfather (he declined to go with him on his last fishing trip), and with his doubt in his grandmother's assertions that he has inherited the man's talent for storytelling. Nana Myma has arranged for Jonas to take part in Miss Linde's important storytelling event in their town of Hog Hammock, a role usually reserved for adult males. His mixed feelings are further complicated when, in the midst of a prank with a friend, he damages his grandfather's headstone. Jonas's father returns from the mainland, disciplines his son for his transgression, and takes his rightful place as the family storyteller at Miss Linde's. But Jonas asks to tell instead and commemorates his grandfather by narrating in the Gullah language the story he has practiced. While the exact time period is vague and the plot minimal, authenticity and richness of setting strengthen the presentation. Evocative language and the careful use of Gullah phrases and a made-up dialect add flavor while remaining accessible, and an author's note on the Gullah language and its place in the story is appended.Marie Orlando, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY
Frances Bradburn
Jonas believes that the best way to atone for the guilt he feels because he wasn't with his grandfather when he died is to honor him at the Sunday night tellin'. It is there that the generations of Hog Hammock elders pass down the stories of their heritage. His grandmother believes that Jonas had been given "de gif fe lie" at his grandfather's passing, and Jonas longs to prove her right. Set on Sapelo Island, a fictitious Sea Island settlement off the southeast coast of the U.S., this is a seldom heard, authentic story of contemporary life in a Gullah-speaking community steeped in the stories of its past. Children will revel in Jonas and his friend Zeke's weekend life of shrimping, fishing, ocean swimming, and chores, as well as in the close-knit harmony of extended family and community, in this lyrical, low-key, lovingly crafted chapter book.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.72(w) x 8.24(h) x 0.59(d)
Age Range:
7 - 10 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It was hot. Sticky, skin-prickling heat hung over the Georgia coast like teakettle steam. Jonas fanned the air in front of his face with his hand. It did little to cool him off. "August heat the worse of all," Jonas's grandpa had always said, and Jonas believed it.

He plopped down on the edge of his grandparents' rickety dock and swung his bare feet. The dock jutted out into the curve of a creek off Duplin River. Duplin was just one of many rivers that crisscrossed the tide marshes on the west side of Sapelo Island.

Jonas had no memory of the dock being built. That had happened more than a dozen years ago and he had not been born yet. His grandpa had sunk the pilings, laid the boards, and driven the nails. His grandpa and he had spent many days and evenings on the old dock fishing, telling stories, or just staring out at the marsh.

Jonas rubbed his fingers over the rough boards. The old man's death, over six months earlier, still hadn't quite sunk in. Being on the dock made him feel as if his grandpa could still be somewhere close by. Jonas remembered the last thing his grandpa had said to him the morning he'd died. "Come go catch fish with me."

Jonas had almost gone fishing, but then he changed his mind. "I'll go next time, Grandpa," he'd said. "I want to go to the beach with my friend, Zeek." Later, someone found Grandpa lying down on the dock like he was sleeping with his face to the sun. He never woke up again. While Jonas was having fun with Zeek, Grandpa's heart stopped.

Jonas hadn't been able to come to the dock for a long time after the funeral. He hated the stinging in his eyes and choking feeling he got in his throat whenhe was here. Everything about the dock reminded him of how he'd let Grandpa down. If he'd gone fishing like Grandpa had asked, he could have been there to fetch help. Or maybe he could have said good-bye.

The only thing he could think of to do now was not think about Grandpa at all. Forget him if he could. But that was like forgetting you had a sandspur stuck in your foot. Every step you took pushed it deeper and made it hurt even more.

A light breeze stirred the heavy air. Jonas tipped his head back, hoping it would cool his face. He stripped off his T-shirt and wiggled his feet into his oldest pair of tennis shoes. They were too tight, and full of rips from the razor edges of oyster shells that clumped on the walls of the riverbanks.

He scanned the rippling sea of spearlike grass that blanketed the flat, muddy salt-marsh meadow. The rivers were muck-filled channels right now, emptied of their water by the low tide. But it was only a matter of time before the incoming ocean tide would fill them and turn the mud flats into a chest-deep swamp.

Jonas jumped off the dock to the marsh floor and began weaving through the stiff, chin-high grass. He followed a path along the river channel that he had used thousands of times in his life. He had been three years old and just big enough to drag a shrimp net the first time he had been allowed to tag along with the men into the marsh.

Thousands of pecan-sized fiddler crabs rushed ahead of his moving feet in a wave. "Out of my way!" shouted Jonas, waving his arms around.

The sudden noise startled a blue heron into flight and made Jonas jump. "Well, Mr. Skinnylegs, don't think I want to be here. I have better things to do with my Friday afternoons. Besides, I had to gather the sweetgrass last time it ran out. This was supposed to be Rikki's turn to cut a bundle!" He kicked a clump of oyster shells into the bottom of the channel.

At the end of the path, Jonas turned away from the river and zigzagged out into the reeds. He kept his eyes open for the thin green blades of sweetgrass. The clumps grew in places where fresh water collected near the marsh and beach. It seemed harder to find every time he came out. Jonas rubbed his shoulders. He felt like a Sunday-dinner roasted hen.

"We haven't had chicken in forever," thought Jonas. "Mom said she won't cook another one till Dad comes home from Brunswick." Jonas's father and uncle Micah stayed on the mainland during the summer and worked in a paper mill. Sometimes it was a month before they were able to come home on the ferry for a weekend.

Jonas finally spotted a patch of slender, golden-tipped grass. He pulled a knife from its sheath in his pocket and began cutting the stems close to the ground.

"Longer is bestest for the weavin'," his grandmother always said to him, never lifting her eyes from the coil of basket she gripped in her fingers. Nana Myrna's sweetgrass baskets were prized by the tourists who visited Sapelo Island. She shaped them like large urns and great plump apples, and she wove them so tightly they could hold water.

"This is enough," said Jonas. He wound a strand of grass around the thick bundle and lifted it to his shoulder. Turning back toward the river channel, he began retracing his zigzag path through the marsh field. Up ahead, he could see a patch of grass rippling, but no breeze was blowing.

"Marsh hens!" whispered Jonas excitedly. He threw the bundle of sweetgrass down and pulled a slingshot from the back pocket of his cutoffs.

The fat brown birds were picking their way through the grass, clucking softly. Jonas followed them for a long time.

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