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The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl (1983)

by Virginia Hamilton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1263219,251 (3.5)6
Pretty Pearl, a spirited young African god child eager to show off her powers, travels to the New World where, disguised as a human, she lives among a band of free blacks who have created their own separate world deep inside a vast forest.

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In fairness, I'm pretty much ignorant of African and African-American folklore. I've recently gotten Henry Louis Gates and Maria Tatar's The Annotated African American Folktales, which I plan on reading fairly soon, and once I do I may give Pretty Pearl another try. With the sense of myth and folklore that it conveys, Pretty Pearl has a strong ending – the problem is, getting there. ( )
  CurrerBell | Dec 30, 2017 |
I picked this up because I had heard of the author, tho I had never read anything by her. I am blown away by the depth and breadth of history and culture woven into this story. What a fine introduction to black culture. Don't let this book stay in juvenile classification (altho it surely would be good for younger readers) because adults need to read this too.
(ETA)I am reading it again to my children. It is written in dialect, which bothered me in one of Zora Neale Hurston's books but which is not a problem for me here--it helps me give voice to the different characters..
I love this book on so many levels. It is a great introduction to Black African historical experiences for children without being didactic. It describes the aid the Cherokee gave to the recently freed slaves who were not experiencing very much freedom in their daily life despite the North's victory in the Civil War. It incorporates the legend of John Henry, with a new slant. It encourages looking at the world from a new perspective, that there might be gods among us, that we may have some of the godlight within us. It includes about some important healing herbs, & tells where the John the Conqueror root came from (you'll have to do your own research to find out what this plant is known as now). It hints at the compression and circularity of time...it's non-linearity. ( )
  juniperSun | Aug 27, 2011 |
[This review is taken from one I posted to the livejournal community, Writers of Color 50 Book Challenge.]

I won this book as a prize when I was in second grade and I've read it many times between now and then. It's a novel-length (309 pages) book for children, but unlike much YA fiction it has a lot going on in the way of plot, characters and themes.

First of all it's the story of Pretty Pearl, god child from Mount Kenya, and how she adventures with her big brother, the best god John de Conquer, across the Atlantic by way of a slave ship to the soils of Georgia. There they wait and watch the toil and sadness of black folks in America, till after the Civil War. Then John de Conquer lets Pretty Pearl go off (with her chosen spirit companions, whose names I just like to say: Dwahro, the Hide-Behind, Hodag, and the Fool-la-fafa) into the woods in search of the Inside People, a community of ex-slaves hiding in the wilderness.

In Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? (another book I read not long ago), Beverly Tatum digresses a time or two to tell about how she taught her children about African-American history. She says that her problem was to make them aware of slavery before they had to hear about it in school, in a truthful way yet without frightening them (her sons were around 3-5 when they talked about these things) and without presenting slaves as simply victims, as often happens in public school history lessons.

I mention this because although Pretty Pearl isn't for children that young, it is full of wonderful, African-American-centric history lessons. Hamilton shows the reader brief, haunting images of pre-colonial Africa, the slave trade and a slave ship, slavery in the American South, and the lives of some black folks after Emancipation. She doesn't go into graphic detail, but she conveys to some degree the sorrow and pain of those times. But her most important historical accomplishment is on the side of hope. Her characters--gods, gods disguised as/working with ex-slaves, the ex-slaves themselves, and their Cherokee allies--are all very much agents. Whether, in a Trickster-like scene, giving some white would-be lynchers their just desserts, or coordinating and creating an entire community, the characters in this book positively affect their world, in spite of continual threats around them.

I think the best use one could put this book to would be to read it out loud, serial-fashion, to a group of 4th- or 5th-graders, accompanied by discussions about African-American history and tradition. The out-loud part is essential, something I really wish I'd experienced, because Hamilton's language and the voices she gives her different characters are lyrical, wise, and more than occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. But (read out loud or not) I think most of us grown-ups can enjoy it too.
1 vote dorothean | Sep 18, 2007 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Virginia Hamiltonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dillon, DianeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dillon, LeoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For the Inside Folks: They broke loose, escaped, flowed away, slipped away; they hid, disappeared and were forever free. Power to your generations.
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One time long ago, Pretty Pearl yearned to come down from on high.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Pretty Pearl, a spirited young African god child eager to show off her powers, travels to the New World where, disguised as a human, she lives among a band of free blacks who have created their own separate world deep inside a vast forest.

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