Monday, November 2, 2009

Just Before Nightfall

The Dark Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural
By Patricia McKissack
Knopf, 1992

Every now and then a timeless supernatural classic comes along, one that you have to read over and over again and share with as many people as you can. The Dark Thirty, winner of the 1993 Coretta Scott King Award with black and white illustrations by Brian Pinkney, is one such book. An anthology of nine short stories and one poem, this book is an engaging collection of tales.

The title comes from that time of day just before nightfall and the stories within are perfect yarns to spin at that eerie time of day. The stories within this book are haunting, in a horror story sense as well as in a social commentary sort of way. The stories evoke the African-American experience in the south with themes ranging from slavery, segregated communities, transport (trains and buses), and 60's activism, all with a supernatural twist. The stories are written in such a way that a wide audience can be reached and mesmerized. The narratives are smooth, steady, and subtle, despite the heavy and sometimes violent themes they depict. For instance, in the story "Justice" readers are introduced to a character whose ghost returns to avenge his wrongful and horrible lynching murder by a Klansman. Sometimes these elements of our history are hard to explore with youth, but using a short story as a way to break the ice, we can start a dialogue about the haunting parts of our past in a way that is accessible and appropriate for children of a certain age.

I remember my 6th grade teacher reading this book to us, one story at a time, and I remember this was the first time my class was quiet. Pin drop quiet. Every Friday we were allowed to bring pop and gum into class, so usually we were all wound up on sugar, but the Friday afternoons when Mr. B read from this book we were all quietly and thoughtfully absorbed in the tales. This is a book I enjoyed hearing and love to read over and over and I am happy to share it with you. I hope you find it to be a powerful reading experience.

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