Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott

author’s website    No video trailer found, but this is an author’s tour of the book’s primary location – it’s really interesting!

Summary: 11/12yo “D” (no one except his mom calls him Dimitri) has had some struggles. Dad is a mysterious, non-existent figure from his past. Mom has recently passed away from breast cancer. D spends a brief time in the foster care system before being taken to live with kindly old Mrs. Martin. But then the crack-addicted baby foster girl comes to live with them and D feels a little overwhelmed. He’s just getting into his new school and is accelerating in math, has made a friend of an older boy named Keem that needs a math tutor, and there’s an awkward friendship with Keem’s crush Nyla. (Both Keem and Nyla seem older than what I guess are 8th grade in the story). Then D finds a possessed bird who wants him to be a “host” for her spirit and go down under Prospect Park in NY to find the souls from the African Burial Ground and help them move on to the next realm.

Personal Reaction: Loved the demon bird cover, but the book was kind of “meh.” There’s a LOT that’s left unexplained, and everything moves too quickly to be satisfying for my taste. I think if this story had been fleshed out more it would have been much better. I did like the brief touch on what being Muslim means for Keem. Since it’s kind of simple, I’d say it would be ok for grades 4-8, but there’s some scary points where D is attacked by inanimate objects, chased by spirits/skeletons, and both D and Nyla are hurt. So maybe just gr 6+ depending on your reader’s sensitivity. One brief mention of “freaks” at school includes those who are attracted to same sex.

Curriculum or discussion topics: African Burial Ground and Battle of Long Island, Hessians; bullying

Connections to other books: Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence  by Joyce Hansen, Long Island’s Military History by Glen Williford,  by The Complete Guidebook to Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens Berenson, maybe even Backyard Birds (Field Guides for Young Naturalists) or Math Doesn’t Suck by McKellar

Items to display with book: stuffed white dove, maps of NYC, photos of Prospect Park and boulder plaque for Battle Pass, historical info about the African Burial Ground and Battle of Long Island in the Revolutionary War, math textbook

Food items connected to story: Pizza, potato chips, hot cocoa, oatmeal with brown sugar

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