Frost, Helen. 2006. The Braid. New York: Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 9780374309626.
I feel like I must start this with a phrase I started using in high school…Holy Paper Cranes!
The Braid is the kind of poetry novel I wish I had found when I was still in middle school or high school. It tells the story of two Scottish sisters, Sarah and Jeannie, who are separated partially by being evicted and partially by Sarah’s stubbornness. They each have a braid made of each others’ hair twined with their own. However, the work itself is a braid. A word or theme will carry from the narrative poems to the smaller praise poems. Frost also makes the lines of the narrative poems have the same number of syllables as the speaker’s age. (I will admit, I didn’t figure this out on my own. I read the author’s note and then went back to count.) However, I will admit to flipping back and forth when a word or phrase from a previous praise poem were used again in a narrative.
The two sisters grow up separately together. Much like their braids, they are twined around each other. Jeannie wonders if she is being like Sarah, while Sarah wishes Jeannie was there to talk with. While Jeannie is fending for her mother and brother by finding scraps to build a table or planting wheat to earn money, Sarah is learning about love and what it means to live on an island of family. It isn’t a matter of the sisters growing apart, in fact, they still yearn for each other, it is simply a matter of growth.
Frost tells the story of two people, yet she often uses the same images. The blue sky or mussels, or seals and wind, these images weave through both girls’ lives even though they are not physically near each other. While the words themselves are not complicated or hard to understand, The Braid practically begs to be read multiple times. Due to the twisted nature of the story, rereading only enhances the experience. It allows the reader to see exactly how connected the sisters, actually the whole family, are.
The Braid is a history lesson. It’s a lesson in culture. It’s a story about family. Like a literal braid has many strands, there are many approaches that could be taken to discuss this verse novel. It would be easy to encourage each child to approach it in a different way. There is no need to limit any discussion or analysis of The Braid to a three pronged attack simply because most braids only have three strands. I do think this is geared more towards middle school kids than elementary school children.
Kirkus Review- “Readers will hold their breaths waiting to discover what happens to the sisters while their verbal reservoirs will be restocked with incredible imagery, rich vocabulary and powerful storytelling.”
School Library Journal- “While the inventive form is accomplished and impressive, it’s the easy flow of the verse and its emotional impact that will carry even reluctant readers into the windswept landscape and the hardships and dreams of these two girls.”
YALSA “Best Books for Young Adults, 2007”
2007 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor Book
School Library Journal “Best Books of the Year, 2006”
Kirkus Reviews “Editor’s Choice, 2006”
Special Recognition: 2007 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People
Texas TAYSHAS High School Reading List
“THE BRAID by Helen Frost.”
Maza, Jill. “The Braid” School Library Journal. http://www.helenfrost.net/item.php?postid=17