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Pemba's Song by Tonya Hegamin & Marilyn Nelson

Pemba's Song: A Ghost Story
y Tonya C. Hegamin & Marilyn Nelson

Publishing Information: Scholastic Press: New York, 2008
ISBN: 9780545020763
: 109 p.
Ages: 12 & Up

As fifteen-year-old Pemba adjusts to leaving her Brooklyn, New York, home for small-town Connecticut, a Black history researcher helps her understand the paranormal experiences drawing her into the life of a mulatto girl who was once a slave in her house.

Book Talk:
Pemba had not wanted to move here from her home in New York. But now her mother has a new job and this is their new home.

Something strange has been happening to Pemba since she and her mother moved into the old house in Connecticut. It started the very first night and since then Pemba has strange dreams, hears whisperings, and has even been walking in her sleep.

How do you solve a mystery that is hundreds of years old? What is happening to Pemba and why?

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Historical Research
Paranormal Phenomena

Awards & Reviews:
Booklist¸ November 1, 2008, p. 34
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2008
School Library Journal, December 1, 2008, p. 124

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Initially Pemba dismisses Abraham as an insignificant “old man.” How does her opinion of him change during the course of the story? What changes her opinion?
  2. What was life like for Phyllis, the 18th century slave girl, when she lived in the house in Colchester, Connecticut?
  3. How does music help Pemba connect with her friends in Brooklyn? How does it help her connect with her deceased father?
  4. How does what Pemba learns about the history of African Americans in Colchester, Connecticut, about the old house she now lives in and about the Colored School change her opinion about moving to Connecticut?

Related Websites:
Author's Website -
Museum of Connecticut History:
An interview with Marilyn Nelson:

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The Color of Fire by Ann Rinaldi, 2005
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The Crossroads
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Fast Life
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Fortune's Bones: The Manumission Requiem
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The Glory Field
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The Intruders by E.E. Richardson, 2006
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Molly Bannaky
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New Found Land: Lewis and Clark's Voyage of Discovery
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by Celia Rees (2005 RITBA Nominee)
The Ring of the Slave Prince
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The Secret of Laurel Oaks
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Slave Day
by Rob Thomas, 1997
Taking Liberty: The Story of Oney Judge, George Washington's Runaway Slave
by Ann Rinaldi, 2002
Time's Memory by Julius Lester, 2006
War Comes to Willy Freeman by James Collier, 1983
Wolf by the Ears
by Ann Rinaldi, 1991

Other Books by the Authors:
Tonya C. Hegamin
, 2008
Most Loved in All the World, 2009

Marilyn Nelson
For the Body, 1978
Hundreds of Hens and Other Poems for Children
, 1982 - translated from Danish with Pamela Espeland
The Cat Walked through the Casserole and Other Poems for Children
, 1984
Mama's Promises: Poems
, 1985
The Homeplace: Poems
, 1990
Magnificat: Poems
, 1994
The Fields fo Praise: New and Selected Poems, 1997
Fortune's Bones: The Manumission Requiem
, 2004
Carver: A LIfe in Poems, 2001
The Cachoeira Tales and Other Poems
, 2005
A Wreath for Emmett Till
, 2005
The Ladder, 2006
Miss Crandall's School for Young Ladies & Little Misses of Color: Poems with Elizabeth Alexander, 2007
The Freedom Business: Including a Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venutre, Native of Africa, 2008

About the Author:
Tonya Hegamin grew up in Pennsylvania and New York and has wanted to be a writer since she was very young. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children from The New School University. About Pemba’s Song, she says, “Marilyn Nelson and I wanted to write a book for a friend of ours, Mr. Abraham Haqq, who, despite seemingly insurmountable odds, has accomplished an incredible amount of research about African-Americans contributions to the historic town of Colchester, Connecticut.”

Marilyn Nelson, writer and poet,  was born in Ohio. Her father was a U.S. Airforce serviceman and Marilyn spent much of her early years traveling from one military base to another. She holds a B.A. from the University of California and post graduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Minnesota. Her honors include two Pushcart Prizes, two creative writing fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Fulbright Teaching Fellowship, and the 1990 Connecticut Arts Award. Since 1978 she has taught at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, where she is a professor of English.

| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair