Siegelson, Kim L. 1962-
SIEGELSON, Kim L. 1962-
Born 1962, in GA.
Home—Atlanta, GA. Agent—c/o Publicity, Philomel Books, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
Writing Award, Center for Multicultural Children's Literature.
FOR YOUNG READERS
The Terrible, Wonderful Tellin' at Hog Hammock, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
In the Time of the Drums, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 1999.
Escape South, illustrated by Shelley Jackson, Golden Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Honey Bea, Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2003.
Dancing the Ring Shout!, illustrated by Lisa Cohen, Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2003.
Trembling Earth, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Kim L. Siegelson is best known as an author of children's books that often focus on the importance of traditions in the African-American slave communities of the South. Though her stories are set in the age of slavery, the author tends to emphasize the culture of African-born people rather than referencing the unjust relationship between blacks and whites that pervaded her characters' lives; nevertheless, it is a culture filled with yearning for the past and for freedom. For example, in The Terrible, Wonderful Tellin' at Hog Hammock Siegelson recreates the world of an island community off the coast of Georgia. In the Gullah-speaking setting Sapelo Island, young Jonas is still a boy when he is invited to take part in the "tellin'" shortly after his grandfather's death. Usually, only men are allowed to partake in this important ritual, and Jonas is understandably nervous and conflicted, even more so because he feels guilty about refusing his grandfather's invitation to go fishing on the day the elderly man died. Critics praised the chapter book for young readers for vividly illustrating the role of storytelling in passing down their oral history. Noting this point in a Horn Book review, Nancy Vasilakis was also pleased to see how "Jonas's personal story is told with admirable craft and empathy." School Library Journal reviewer Marie Orlando commended the "richness of setting" and "evocative language" of the book, while Booklist critic Frances Bradburn concluded that The Terrible, Wonderful Tellin' at Hog Hammock is a "lyrical, lowkey, lovingly crafted chapter book."
In the Time of the Drums returns to an island populated by African slaves struggling to preserve their cultural heritage. Here, a young boy named Mentu learns the songs of his people and the methods of beating the goatskin drums from his Ibo grandmother, Twi. Her knowledge is made all the more powerful when a ship-load of newly enslaved Ibo people arrive on the island and Twi greets them with traditional music. She then shows them the way home by walking back to Africa on the bottom of the ocean. The story, inspired by a historical slave rebellion on the Sea Islands, ends with a scene in which the reader sees Mentu, now an adult, passing the songs along to his daughter, concluding what a Publishers Weekly contributor called "a thought-provoking and memorable work." Other reviewers similarly praised the author's ability to capture the mood of her story, with one Horn Book writer calling the book an "eerily beautiful slave tale." Although the story is "full of slavery's unhappy history," commented Patricia J. Williams in the New York Times Book Review, "it is a fine example of a genre paradoxically remarkable for the comfort and sustenance it delivers."
More recently, Siegelson completed two more stories of the American South, Dancing the Ring Shout! and Trembling Earth. The former is similar to her earlier works in that it expresses the importance of cultural traditions for African Americans. In this case, it is the tradition of the ring shout, in which participants gather in a circle, each contributing a particular gift of music and rhythm to the joyous noise they produce, such as tapping a cane, striking a drum, or shaking a gourd. Toby is invited into the circle, but is uncertain what he can bring to the music; he has no cane, no gourd, no drum. Finally, he realizes that all he need do is clap along and be a part of the group. While School Library Journal reviewer Mary N. Oluonye found this offering by Siegelson to be "less than compelling," other critics found much to enjoy. Terry Glover, for one, concluded in his Booklist review that Dancing the Ring Shout! proves the author to be "a master at whipping historic events into delectable tidbits."
With Trembling Earth Siegelson explores the point of view of a white boy growing up in the South during the U.S. Civil War. The boy's father, who lost a leg in the fighting, is unable to keep a job, and twelve-year-old Hamp Cravey is trying to figure out how he can help support the family. Rewards are being offered for the return of runaway slaves, but when Hamp and his sister Neeta learn that slaves are hiding on their neighbor's property, he is conflicted. Hamp does not harbor any ill will toward the runaways, but he has also been brought up to believe that blacks are somehow inferior to whites. A tale of conscience and coming of age, Trembling Earth involves a journey through both the southern swamps and the geography of a young boy's mind. Though a Kirkus Reviews contributor felt that the book's conclusion is a little too "tidy and didactic," the critic praised the author's "rich descriptions of the swamp" and "exciting, multilayered tale." And Anna M. Nelson, writing in School Library Journal, had high praise for Siegelson's "vivid use of language" and her creation of a "believable character" in Hamp.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 29, 1999, Julie Bookman, "Gullah Story Full of Emotion, Pull of Africa," review of The Terrible, Wonderful Tellin' at Hog Hammock, p. E4.
Black Issues Book Review, March-April, 2004, Carolyn Edgar Abron, review of Dancing the Ring Shout!, p. 68.
Booklist, June 1, 1996, Frances Bradburn, review of The Terrible, Wonderful Tellin' at Hog Hammock, p. 1724; April 1, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of In the Time of the Drums, p. 1428; December 1, 2003, Terry Glover, review of Dancing the Ring Shout!, p. 685; May 15, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Trembling Earth, p. 1630.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 2004, Karen Coats, review of Trembling Earth, p. 38.
Chicago Tribune, February 15, 2004, Mary Harris Russell, review of Dancing the Ring Shout!, p. 2.
Horn Book, July-August, 1996, Nancy Vasilakis, review of The Terrible, Wonderful Tellin' at Hog Hammock, p. 465; May, 1999, review of In the Time of the Drums, p. 345.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2003, review of Dancing the Ring Shout!, p. 1131; May 1, 2004, review of Trembling Earth, p. 449.
New York Times Book Review, August 15, 1999, Patricia J. Williams, review of In the Time of the Drums, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, April 26, 1999, review of In the Time of the Drums, p. 82.
School Library Journal, August, 1996, Marie Orlando, review of The Terrible, Wonderful Tellin' at Hog Hammock, pp. 144, 148; December, 2003, Mary N. Oluonye, review of Dancing the Ring Shout!, p. 126; June, 2004, Anna M. Nelson, review of Trembling Earth, p. 150.
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), September 7, 2003, Marigny Dupuy, "You Know It Makes Me Wanna Shout!," review of Dancing the Ring Shout!, p. 6.*