Hold Fast

imagesHold Fast by Blue Balliett

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

                                                                                                         -Langston Hughes

Webster online dictionary

  1. something to which something else may be firmly secured

Urban Dictionary

1.  to stop or slow down – Example:  hold fast a few minutes

2.  to bear down, grit it out, stay the course  – Originally a nautical term probably borrowed from the Dutch referring to the importance of securely gripping a ship’s rigging.  Example: Times are tough right now but we got to hold fast and ride it out.

Hold fast is just what one must do as your enter the world of Early Pearl. Balliett leads us on a powerful journey of homelessness, love, family, words and hope in her middle grades novel HOLD FAST. Early, our main character, has a small family of four living on the edge but has big plans. Dad is working at the Chicago library, plans to go to school and they dream large dreams of a house with a yard. Their dreams are shared through books, stories and words. Dashel, Early’s father, loves words and puzzles and he used these to help his family learn and grow together in their small apartment.

It is these words from their father’s notebooks with definitions, their puzzle games, and words from Langston Hughes, Dashel’s favorite author, that Early uses to help her family when four becomes three. Dashel disappears suddenly and dreams dissolve just as quickly. “Life becomes a barren field of frozen snow” as this happy family finds themselves on a very cold winters night in a shelter for the homeless.

Balliett is a master of words and she continues to introduce new words to us as Early learns more and more about her father and his disappearance. Early uses a notebook like her father to record her words and to help her think about how to find him.  She models for us what makes a good student, how to hold fast – she researches, is observant, records and reflects on all that she sees and learns. She is curious and asks lots of questions and seems to always find a way to help her mother and brother as they struggle with their life in the shelter.

This book however is not just about vocabulary. This book is really about family and homelessness. We see life though Early’s eyes. We know her fear, pain and true sense of loss.  We also see the resilience and creativity that people have and use when they find themselves without the comforts of “home”. We are asked to hold fast – to slow down and think about what does home really mean.

This is a book that would be a great read aloud to a group of students. It is ripe with thoughtful questions, actions that can be taken, and research that students might want to follow up with on their own.  It models so many skills we want our students to use in their own learning.

It also opens up a world that many of us might not know or truly understand but a world that many of my students and maybe some of yours have lived and do understand very well.   This books, although it is fiction and a wonderful mystery adventure, validates students whose home is not a house with a yard.  It lets us see the power and wisdom of all our students and that home is about family and the people who care about us.  It is about holding fast to our dreams. As Early learns and so do we – Times are tough right now but we got to hold fast and ride it out.

Thanks Blue Balliett for a wonderful book to share with students and to teach from.

Teachers:  This book is great for students to use text to text connections, text to world connection, asking questions, and developing deep conversations.  It would be a wonderful book to have students write in response to their reading.   There is so much to think about while puzzling out the mystery with Early.

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About Joanne Toft

I am a retired Minneapolis Public School teacher. I walk, garden, help in schools and write. Life is good!
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5 Responses to Hold Fast

  1. Leigh Anne says:

    I have just added this book to my TBR list. I also love the poem by Langston Hughes. I read this with my 4th graders…so much to talk about.

  2. newtreemom says:

    A very thought-provoking review. Can’t wait to read this book!
    I just finished a workshop in which “Critical Stance- Teaching to Transform inequities” was presented. This book would surely inspire that kind of thinking.

  3. Wow…you have displayed your talent in book review and recommendation. The way you described this book makes me want to devour it for all the reasons you described. Keep it up.

  4. Congrats on your new life….I am almost in the same spot…’hold fast to your dreams’. I’m up on vacation and am going to check this book out right away. It sounds like it is perfect for me right. now. xo

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