Dayshaun's Gift, by Zetta Elliott (Create Space, Sept 2015, older elementary), is the second of her City Kids books, in which urban kids get a chance to have magical adventures. The first was The Phoenix on Baker Street (my review), which was a rare example of lovely magic coming into the lives of kids in a modern urban setting. This one is a time travel story, and so less extraordinarily fantastical, but it's good too.
Dayshaun would (unsurprisingly) rather stay peacefully at home playing video games than go out into the heat with his mother to work in the community garden in their Brooklyn neighborhood. But she insists...and I guess either she's more consistently forceful mother than I am, or Dayshaun is a more cooperative child, but after only limited resistance from his part the two of them set off to the historic area where their garden is planted.
Working amongst the cabbages, the heat gets so intense that Dayshaun is driven to putting on his grandfather's worn old hat...and with a wave of dizziness, he's transported 150 years back in time! He keeps his head remarkably well, and becomes friendly with two local kids who don't seem to notice anything odd about him, and he goes with them to take food to a group of African Americans who have been forced to flee from their homes in Manhattan because of the rioting there related to the Civil War military draft.
Dayshaun is moved by the plight of the refugees, and forms a bond with one old man in particular, who gives him a handful of heirloom tomato seeds he'd brought with him when he escaped slavery in Virginia. Dayshaun, who soon afterwards finds himself in his own time again, gives them to his mother to plant, and so the heritage of generations can grow again, making this garden an even more special place.
It's a story full of history and creates a lovely sense of a place rooted in the past. I'm a gardener myself, and am all in favor of urban greenspaces, so I appreciated that aspect of the book lots, and I think I would have back when I was the age of the target audience. It's not one for every kid though--there is little tension, and no sense of danger to Dayshaun. He has a remarkably stress-free time travel experience, though he is clearly aware of the horrible stress endured by the refugees. This lack of urgency to the plot makes it, I think, one perhaps better suited to peaceful reading out loud to a seven or eight year old than one to give a reluctant reader who demands excitement (though of course the basic story of time travel offers some excitement in its own right!). And reading it outloud gives kids a chance to hear about race riots in the past with a grownup who can clarify and comfort, if needed. Kids growing up in Brooklyn will especially appreciate this new look at their own place, but Dayshaun is a relatable protagonist for any kid forced to spend Saturday away from their electronic devices.
Here's a nice afterward by the author.
disclaimer: review copy received from the author