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Priscilla & the Hollyhocks
Different versions of this story have been told, but a young slave named Priscilla did live out the events detailed in Priscilla and the Hollyhocks. Priscilla was a house servant on a Georgia plantation. She met an Illinois innkeeper named Barzilla (Basil or Bazil) Silkwood when he visited her master (name unknown) sometime in the mid-1830s. When her master died, the girl was purchased by a Cherokee man. Many Cherokees, in an effort to adapt to European American settlers' ways, farmed large properties and owned slaves, although not all members of the tribe approved of slavery.
As the American population spread westward, many Native Americans found they were fighting a losing battle with the United States government. In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, a law that made it easier for the government to move Native Americans from coveted land in the East to less desirable "Indian Territory" west of the Mississippi River. In 1838 the government rounded up more than sixteen thousand Cherokees and forced them to move. Over four thousand Cherokees died on this "Trail of Tears" due to illness, malnutrition, and exhaustion.
As a Cherokee family's slave, Priscilla accompanied her owners, walking over five hundred miles in bitterly cold weather. Amazingly enough, as Priscilla was passing through Jonesboro, Illinois, she happened to see Basil Silkwood standing on the porch of the Willard Hotel. He listened to Priscilla's story, followed to where she was camped, and paid one thousand dollars in gold for Priscilla's freedom. He then took Priscilla home to Mulkeytown, Illinois. Basil and his wife, Mariah, adopted her into their family. A child of one of Priscilla's adoptive brothers later wrote, "[S]he was just one of the sixteen children that Uncle Bazil and his wife raised. They had no children of their own. Priscilla was treated just as good as the other children were."
Priscilla outlived Basil and Mariah and inherited forty acres of land, as did each of the other adopted children. Priscilla died in 1892 and was buried beside the Silkwoods near the Silkwood Inn (the family home). Today the inn is a historic site and museum. The seeds from Priscilla's flowers, now commonly known as Priscilla's hollyhocks, have been shared by gardeners since 1839.
Booklist - February 1, 2008
When Priscilla's mother is sold to a new owner and the two are separated, the young slave girl finds solace in her mother's hollyhock patch. As she grows older, the kind words of a white businessman, Basil Silkwood, instill in Priscilla a desire to attend school, but she is soon sold to a Cherokee family, and her life of servitude continues. As her Native American owners embark on the grueling journey west, known as the 1838 "Trail of Tears," she again meets the compassionate Silkwood, who purchases her freedom. Alter's appealing acrylic illustrations, rendered in single- and double- page spreads and framed close-ups, elevate the emotion of the story and echo the flattened perspective and thick outlines of folk art. Based on real events, Broyles' poetic and colloquial narrative, voiced by a grown Priscilla, ends with the girl sowing the seeds of her mother's hollyhocks near her new home with the Silkwoods and an author's note detailing the historical basis of the story.
Kirkus Reviews - February 15, 2008
"When I was young and still wore slavery's yoke, I was saved by hollyhocks, and a white man's kindness." So begins the tale of a little girl, born into slavery on a Georgia plantation. Her mother is sold and the only remembrance Priscilla has of her are the hollyhocks she planted. Old Syliva teaches her how to make hollyhock dolls and float them on the pond. Priscilla is soon put to work in the big house and meets a white man named Basil Silkwood, who tells her she's smart and should be in school. When the master dies, she's sold to a Cherokee family and is a part of the painful Trail of Tears march. Incredibly, on her way through a town, she recognizes Silkwood and speaks out to him. He follows the march to the encampment and buys Priscilla's freedom. She becomes part of the Silkwood family and plants the hollyhocks with these words: "Grow, I sang to the seeds. Bloom, I commanded the plants. Safe, I told myself. Home." Simple, bold colorful paintings enhance a text many young readers will be able to decipher. Historical note and instructions to make a hollyhock doll are appended.
Yellow Brick Road - March 1, 2008
Priscilla, an orphaned slave child is sold and sold again. All she has to comfort her are memories of her mother, and the hollyhocks she planted. Priscilla takes the seeds wherever she goes. When bought by a Cherokee family, she later accompanies them on the Trail of Tears. A white man from her past who witnessed her slavery as a child recognizes her and buys her, to bring her to his own home as a daughter, not a slave. The lyric text and beautiful illustrations display the hope and strength in Priscilla. The tale is based on a true story, recounted in the Author's Note.
School Library Journal - March 1, 2008
Over the course of 10 years, an enslaved girl works hard for two different masters. Priscilla, not even six when her mother was sold, shares a bond with Old Sylvia, who helps her remember her mother by making dolls from the hollyhocks that Priscilla's mother planted. The child's dreams of freedom unfold through descriptive language, and their intensity is strengthened by the freedom suggested by these delicate flower ladies gliding on water. While serving her first temperamental master, Priscilla meets a cheerful visitor named Massa Basil Silkwood, who takes an interest in her and does not "hold with slavery." When the first master dies, Priscilla stands on the auction block with hollyhock seeds in her apron pocket and is purchased by a Cherokee master. When the Indians are rounded up and marched along the "Trail of Tears," she again meets Silkwood, who buys her and sets her free. Raised among 15 adopted Silkwood siblings, Priscilla feels the safety of a true home where she and the hollyhocks are free to grow and bloom. Told in descriptive language accompanied by engaging acrylic paintings, this fictionalized story about a real child who found freedom in an unlikely way offers a unique perspective on slavery. No source notes are given, but an author's note adds details about Priscilla's life and the variety of hollyhocks that bear her name.