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Free Verse, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade Readers

A SLIP OF A GIRL by Patricia Reilly Giff

Anna Mallon lives with her family in County Longford in the 1880s during the Land Wars in Ireland. They are tenant farmers on the Lord’s lands, struggling to raise enough crops to both feed themselves and make enough money to pay rent. Rent continues to climb and the weather continues to interfere with their ability to grow bountiful crops. Anna’s mother gets ill and dies, all her siblings (except her baby sister, Nuala) leave to find better work in America. Anna and her father are left to work the land and try to pay rent to their landlord, even as their neighbors and friends are being evicted because they cannot pay. A Slip of a Girl follows Anna’s journey through insecurity and fear to a new resolve and courage to stand against injustice and save her home.

I picked up A Slip of a Girl for two reasons: (1) the author; and (2) it is written in free verse. I really enjoy novels that are well written in free verse. I find them extraordinarily compelling. When I read Giff’s Pictures of Hollis Woods six years ago it was a 5-star read for me so when I happened to see A Slip of a Girl on the New Books shelf at the library AND it was written in free verse it seemed like an opportunity to discover a new story.

Giff deftly creates a complete story with a well-developed central character through free verse–no easy task. I found Anna’s character authentic and compelling. A Slip of a Girl was a 3.5 star read for me for these reasons. I think the only reason it wasn’t higher is because I didn’t have a deeply personal connection to the subject matter. I think it’s significant that Giff does–Anna’s character is loosely based on her great-grandmother’s experience in the Drumlish Land Wars in 1881.

A Slip of a Girl would be a terrific read-aloud in an upper elementary classroom as part of a historical fiction unit or a unit on Irish history or European landlord/tenant dynamics from the 18th & 19th centuries. It could also be a good independent read for the young reader that feels passionately about injustice and the ‘people’ rising up to invoke a change in policy or procedure or about Irish heritage and history.

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