Prison is not the topic one thinks about when referring to fiction books for children but there are quiet a few that have popped up on the scene these days. There is the series that we all know Tales from Alcatraz by Gennifer Choldenko. (Al Capone Does my Shirts, etc). These are great fun and full of adventure.
There are a few new ones (at least to me) that take a different angle. They deal with children whose parents are in prison for one one reason or another. Often children have a parent, many times a mother, who is serving time due to drug use. This new group of books helps bring a new voice to the classroom. The two books I have read recently deal with the emotions and struggles through adventure, humor and understanding of what a child might feel during this time they are away from their parent.
The first one I read was Ruby on the outside. I reviewed that book last year. It struck a cord with me due to the students I often had in my classroom who were living with Grandparents, parents gone or in prison.
This week I read the wild story of Harry Sue by Sue Stauffacher. This story takes on the adventure of Harry Sue who is trying hard to learn the lingo and the ins and outs of prison. She has high hopes of being bad enough to enter prison herself. This way she is sure she will be able to find her mother.
Harry Sue is living with her Grandmother, a not very nice one at that, who runs a home daycare. Harry Sue calls these poor kids, who have found themselves in her grandmothers care, Crumb Snatchers. Although Harry Sue wants and tries to be mean and bad her heart is made of gold and her days are filled with how to be sure each and every kid is safe while she is at school.
There is humor and fun throughout the story as well as an on going link to the Wizard of Oz (the book not the movie).
At the heart of this story is the deep emotions of kids and families who get lost in the system that really mean to protect but sometimes fails. The resourcefulness of Harry Sue is amazing and seems at bit far fetched. She keeps one Crumb Snatcher safe by placing him in the bathtub during the day while she is at school, a bit of a makeshift play pen.
I know that seems a bit out there but I had a student who did indeed keep her little sister safe by spending the evenings locked in a bathroom eating a make shift dinner in the bathtub. Mom worked at night and Dad drank. He was not very pleasant when he drank so a locked bathroom was a great place to be until mom got home or dad fell asleep. Kids do what they need to do to be safe. Harry Sue helps us see this side of the story.
This would be a great book to read aloud although I think reading it first would be good. There is so much to talk about, and learn about. There are parts to sort out between what might really happen to a child and what might have been the author stretching the story to make this a fun read. Harry Sue came out in 2009 but I just stumbled on it this summer.
Next on the list of prison books is: