I’m not afraid of books written for kids that dig into intense issues. I know that such books can be powerful tools to get kids thinking about difficult things in the world and in their own lives. I’ve seen kids who are normally closed and reticent open up and express really insightful ideas when they read books about more challenging topics.
So, you’re wondering what all this has to do with the pretty book about Rapunzel up top? Sara Lewis Holmes’s book, Letters from Rapunzel is not a fluffy piece of chick lit. Quite the contrary. Holmes uses the Rapunzel fairy tale as a creative device to explore a challenging topic in her first novel for Middle Grade Readers. And people have been taking notice from the get go. Holmes’s story won the Harper Collins Ursula Nordstrom First Fiction Contest, and it is up for a Cybils Award this year in the Middle Grade Fiction category.
Letters from Rapunzel is a story written entirely in… you guessed it… letters. The narrator, who calls herself Rapunzel, is having a bit of a rough go of it, as her father has been cursed with what she calls “The Evil Spell,” and he is away in hospital trying to get better. Rapunzel is fighting her own battles at school as well, since she can’t ever seem to do exactly what her teachers want her to do. She follows her own wacky and creative path at all times, and her mom and teachers are encouraging her to give the Gifted and Talented program a shot. While her father is in hospital and her mother is working extra hours, Rapunzel is trapped in her tower (aka after school Homework Club), and she’s pretty desperate to get out. When she finds a cryptic piece of a letter her father wrote before he got sick, addressed to P.O. Box #5667, she decides that finding out the secret of Box #5667 might lead her to save her father from his curse, and so she begins to write letters to this mystery person.
The more you read Letters from Rapunzel, the more you appreciate that Holmes is working on something that’s more sophisticated than you might have thought at first glance. There are a lot of threads running through this novel, and Holmes weaves them together skillfully. Rapunzel’s father’s CD (clinical depression) remains a bit in the background through the story, but that seems true to her situation and character, since she is having trouble facing the reality of her father’s illness, and she also doesn’t understand it very well. Holmes has got the voice of the gifted kid who dances to her own rhythm just right, and the little mystery of Box #5667 keeps you turning the pages.
Letters from Rapunzel is a clever and thought-provoking treat. Visit Sara Lewis Holmes’s website for more on the book, and swing past her blog, Read, Write, Believe for lots of great thoughts on all things throughout the kids lit world. She is one to watch.