Tag Archives: Skila Brown

Clearing the bookshelves

25 Jan

I picked up more advanced readers copies of books than I’d planned. I thought I was being choosy, but I had to ship a lot home.  I actually shipped them to school and I will get to revisit them today. Because of this, I want to read all the library books I have checked out so I can start in on the ARCs.

Growing up where I did, The Oregon Trail and Westward expansion weren’t really part of my formal education. I knew about them tangentially, but only heard about the Donner Party when it was mentioned by Robin Williams in Patch Adams.

Skila Brown is back with a novel in verse about that tragic event.


Publisher’s Summary:The journey west by wagon train promises to be long and arduous for nineteen-year-old Mary Ann Graves and her parents and eight siblings. Yet she is hopeful about their new life in California: freedom from the demands of family, maybe some romance, better opportunities for all. But when winter comes early to the Sierra Nevada and their group gets a late start, the Graves family, traveling alongside the Donner and Reed parties, must endure one of the most harrowing and storied journeys in American history. Amid the pain of loss and the constant threat of death from starvation or cold, Mary Ann’s is a narrative, told beautifully in verse, of a girl learning what it means to be part of a family, to make sacrifices for those we love, and above all to persevere.

Told in riveting, keenly observed poetry, a moving first-person narrative as experienced by a young survivor of the tragic Donner Party of 1846.
Brown effectively imagines what the journey might have been like and captures the emotions Mary Ann and the others on the journey might have experienced.  Although there is nothing inappropriate for younger readers, the book would be more appropriate for middle and high school aged readers.


15 Aug

During the Christmas break of 1991-92, I left Colombia to study Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala for four weeks. I took a little time off from formal study to travel around Guatemala, hitting some of the required tourist destinations and a few more off beat locations. I went up to Santa Cruz de Quiché where I had a lovely discussion with an older gentleman in a a park who warned me about venerating too far out side the city limits. I had discovered that little old men in parks were wonderful people to talk to, revealing something of their own lives and a something about the place I was visiting.

This particular gentleman had spent time in the US, training with the military. He told me a little bit about the Civil War, without revealing too much about what he had done during that time.

when I got to Lake Atitlán, I visited a few of the Mayan Villages around the Lake, but was particularly struck by Santiago Atitlán, where many terrible human rights abuses had taken place. Indigenous people were assumed to be universally supporters of the guerrillas who were fighting against the government, and were targeted for brutal reprisals. At least 300 Maya from Santiago Atitlán are believed to have disappeared during the conflict. Two events of this era made international news. One was the assassination of an American missionary  in the church at Santiago Atitlán in 1981. In 1990, a spontaneous protest march to the army base on the edge of town was met by gunfire, resulting in the death of 13 unarmed civilians. Here is a picture of the church.


There is a memorial inside to the people who died.


I write all this to give a little of the personal background I brought to mu reading of  Caminar by Skila Brown. 


This novel in verse, set in 1981, tells the story of one boy who has to wrestle with this terrible period in history. Carlos must learn to survive when his village is attacked. Told from his point of view, the poems help make a difficult story approachable. And the variety of the free verse poems helps the reader see into the mind of a young boy trying to make sense of a very confusing period of history where there isn’t always a clear cut right or wrong, good or bad. Carlos knows soldiers and guerrillas. He knows people who have been killed for no apparent reason.  And he needs to figure out where he stands in this world of confusion.

This is a quick read that sheds light on a time and place not often seen in children;s books. 


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