This book, according to the book jacket, is “the only project ever to be endorsed by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust that was not written by Hurston herself.” The book is not only a tribute to Hurston’s Eatonville but to Hurston’s writing. At one point, the authors write, “[D]arkness had written Eatonville in a strange, frightening language, and I couldn’t read it” (114); pure Hurston. A few of Hurston’s characters show up here as well – Joe Clarke, for example. The spirit of the story is Hurston’s as well – part narrative, part anthropology, part commentary.
It’s clearly written for younger children. How young is the question? The “n” word shows up at least 5 times – always as a noun, always used by an AA character. (Do those distinctions matter?) How would a teacher handle this word? How would a teacher explain why a place like Eatonville was created? The issue of passing? There are no lynchings in the book, but the fear is present throughout. There are two dead bodies. There are no explicit descriptions of them, but we do learn that one is headless.
Speaking of Mr. Pendir and his woodworking abilities, Joe Clarke explains to Zora and the narrator, Carrie, that, “[h]is art scared off his fear” (162). This is one of the best and most succinct descriptions of what art is for that I’ve ever read.