Reviews for Porch Lies : Tales of Slicksters, Tricksters, And Other Wily Characters

Booklist Reviews 2006 May #2
/*Starred Review*/ Gr. 3-5. Like McKissack's award-winning The Dark Thirty (1992), the nine original tales in this uproarious collection draw on African American oral tradition and blend history and legend with sly humor, creepy horror, villainous characters, and wild farce. McKissack based the stories on those she heard as a child while sitting on her grandparents' porch; now she is passing them on to her grandchildren. Without using dialect, her intimate folk idiom celebrates the storytelling among friends, neighbors, and family as much as the stories themselves. "Some folk believe the story; some don't. You decide for yourself." Is the weaselly gravedigger going to steal a corpse's jewelry, or does he know the woman is really still alive? Can bespectacled Aunt Gran outwit the notorious outlaw Jesse James? In black and white, Carrilho's full-page illustrations--part cartoon, part portrait in silhouette--combine realistic characters with scary monsters. History is always in the background (runaway slaves, segregation cruelty, white-robed Klansmen), and in surprising twists and turns that are true to trickster tradition, the weak and exploited beat powerful oppressors with the best lies ever told. Great for sharing, on the porch and in the classroom. ((Reviewed May 15, 2006)) Copyright 2006 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2007 Spring
In ten original trickster stories, the child narrator either believes in the trickster when no one else does, or alone sees through him. "A Grave Situation" is a cliffhanger; "The Best Lie Ever Told" scores on its crafty staging; and the two-part story about rascally Cake Norris is a humdinger. Grandly melodramatic black-and-white illustrations capture the stories' mood. Copyright 2007 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2006 #5
It's a clever idea: McKissack presents ten original trickster stories tailored for children with a child narrator in each one, for immediate and lasting identification. McKissack contextualizes the stories, too, more fully and circumstantially than she did in The Dark-Thirty (rev. 3/93). "Change," for instance, is attributed to a life insurance agent on his rounds, who was once a student of "Mama Frances's sister Aunt Tennessee State." "Change" also demonstrates what makes the best of these stories work so well for kids. The scene is a barbershop where Jesse, the ten-year-old narrator, shines shoes. The regulars are grousing about one Mingo Cass, who cons them out of small sums by always claiming to have only a hundred-dollar bill and asking for change. When he pulls the same stunt on Jesse, the men erupt and, putting out their nickels and dimes, bet he has no such thing. Then, to everyone's surprise but Jesse's.... Time and again the narrator either believes in the trickster when no one else does, or alone sees through him. Two of the longer, quasi-legendary stories (a riff on the hell-bent-musician theme made immortal by Arna Bontemps in Lonesome Boy; a farrago about a Klan-like outfit and the James brothers) haven't the same snap. But "A Grave Situation," notwithstanding its echoes of Driving Miss Daisy, is a real cliffhanger; "The Best Lie Ever Told" ("I aine never told no lie before") scores on its crafty staging; and the concluding two-part story about rascally Cake Norris, on the ascent into Heaven and the descent into Hell, is a hum-dinger. Grandly melodramatic black-and-white illustrations capture the mood of the stories and the flavor of the period. Copyright 2006 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2006 August #1
The author of The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural (1992), illustrated by Brian Pinkney, mines a lighter vein with nine original tales that hark back to yarns from her Tennessee childhood. Opening with reminiscent scene-setters, all feature human "slicksters and tricksters" able to get what they want with charm, like con man Pete Bruce-who scores a generous portion of coconut cream pie from an undeceived cook-or despite bad reputations end up performing some worthy deed, as does chauffeur Lincoln Murphy, who excavates a prematurely buried employer. Other tales feature appearances from Frank and Jesse James, helping to rid sharecroppers of a white predator; from Ralph, king of the ghosts; and from the Devil himself, who makes a young musician the same so-tempting offer once made to bluesman Robert Johnson at a certain crossroads. Capped by blues harmonica player Cake Norris's two-part odyssey up and down the ladder to Heaven, these tales all lend themselves to telling or reading aloud, and carry the common theme that even the worst rascals have saving graces. (author's introduction) (Short stories. 10-12) Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2006 July #2

As McKissack (The Dark-Thirty ) opens this treasure chest of tales, she recalls spending summer evenings on her grandparents' front porch in Nashville, where her grandfather and visitors would share spellbinding "porch lies," comically exaggerated stories that often centered on rogues and rascals. The author then presents her own variations on such yarns, "expand[ing] the myths, legends, and historical figures who often appear in the African American oral tradition" to create a sparkling array of porch lies, brimming with beguiling tricksters. McKissack sets the domestic scene for each by describing the porch visitor who first related the tale. A standout features wise, sassy Aunt Gran, who outsmarts Frank and Jesse James, manipulating the bandits into running out of town the racist villain who salted her well in hopes of procuring her property. Other memorable characters include the conniving used-car salesman who is brought to judgment quite humorously on the eve of his wedding; the truth-twisting fellow who wins the liars' contest at the state fair with the line, "I aine never told a lie before"; and a famous blues harmonica player, who wreaks such havoc in the holding station en route to heaven--or the alternative--that he's sent back to earth. Aunt Gran, slyly telling the James brothers a tale that will convince them to help her, notes, "Some folk believe the story; some don't. You decide for yourself." Readers of these spry tall tales will have a grand time doing just that. Ages 8-12. (Aug.)

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School Library Journal Review 2006 September

Gr 5 Up These 10 literate stories make for great leisure listening and knowing chuckles. Pete Bruce flatters a baker out of a coconut cream pie and a quart of milk; Mingo may or may not have anything smaller than a 100-dollar bill to pay his bills; Frank and Jesse James, or “the Howard boys,” help an old woman against the KKK-ish Knights of the White Gardenia; and Cake Norris wakes up dead one dayagain. Carrilho’s eerie black-and-white illustrations, dramatically off-balance, lit by moonlight, and elongated like nightmares, are well-matched with the stories. The tales are variously narrated by boys and girls, even though the author’s preface seems to set readers up for a single, female narrator in the persona of McKissack herself. They contain the “essence of truth but are fiction from beginning to end,” an amalgam of old stories, characters, jokes, setups, and motifs. As such, they have no provenance. Still, it would have helped readers unfamiliar with African-American history to have an author’s note helping separate the “truth” of these lies that allude to Depression-era African-American and Southern traditions. That aside, they’re great fun to read aloud and the tricksters, sharpies, slicksters, and outlaws wink knowingly at the child narrators, and at us foolish humans.Susan Hepler, formerly at Burgundy Farm Country Day School, Alexandria, VA

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