Monday, February 18, 2008
Porch Lies by Patricia C. McKissack
McKissack, Patricia C. 2006. Porch Lies: Tales of Slicksters, Tricksteres, and Other Wily Characters. New York: Schwarz and Wade Books. ISBN: 0375836195
This collection takes readers to a swing on a porch, where they can listen in on stories similar to those passed down from generations about schemers who sometimes win and who sometimes get what they deserve. McKissack keeps in the oral tradition of the African-American culture in which she grew up listening to porch lies by telling her own porch lies to an eager audience. She explores characters such as Aunt Gran who cons the cons into protecting her property against white supremacists and Mingo Cass who only carries around a 100 dollar bill, keeping him from ever having to "break" it and pay for anything.
People of all cultures and races can enjoy and identify with the short stories told in this collection. Although the stories are set in an African-American setting, all readers can relate to family members telling stories, often exaggerated, about days gone by. Although the book is fictional, McKissack addresses civil issues that were prevalent in Southern communities during times of racial segregation and strife. She also adds the hope of many of that time that one day the races would be equal by having the white Mis Crickett ride in the front seat with her black chauffeur.
The colloquialism in the story adds to the southern feel, creating the slower-paced southern small community who would take the time to tell stories on the porch. Diaglogue such as,"See, he aine got it" and "Looka here. Looka here" add to the feel of the small town tone of the stories.
I do agree with one review that McKissack could have made a notation to explain the truth of the social setting of the African-American culture within these "lies." While the stories may be fiction, the inequality in the world, especially for African-Americans, was sadly the norm during the time of the stories, and this sobering truth should be pointed out amid the fun stories.
The illustrator's use of black and white colors only in the pictures provide a striking contrast to the colorful and vibrant personalities of the tricksters highlighted in the stories. Andre Carrilho only adds to the story with his understated pictures, which allow the reader to create the colors from the story and not Carrilho's interpretation of the story.
"It would have helped readers unfamiliar with African-American history to have an author's note helping separate the "truth" of these lies that allude to Depression-era African-American and Southern traditions. That aside, they're great fun to read aloud and the tricksters, sharpies, slicksters, and outlaws wink knowingly at the child narrators, and at us foolish humans."-Susan Hepler, formerly at Burgundy Farm Country Day School, Alexandria, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
"As McKissack (The Dark-Thirty) opens this treasure chest of tales, she recalls spending summer evenings on her grandparents' front porch in Nashville, where her grandfather and visitors would share spellbinding "porch lies," comically exaggerated stories that often centered on rogues and rascals." Publishers Weekly
This collection is a great asset in a language arts classroom. The stories can be used to discuss the African-American tradition of passing on stories orally because that was the only means of communication when slavery existed. It can also be used to discuss the difficulties African Americans after the Civil War since the book addresses topics like the Knights who terrorized innocent people like Aunt Gran.
I plan to use this book in my own language arts classroom as examples for my students to write down a story told often in their own families.