Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Dear Hank Williams

Dear Hank Williams

Kimberly Willis Holt
For ages 8 to 12
Henry Holt, 2015   ISBN: 978-0805080223

On the first day of school on September 1, 1948, Tate’s teacher announces that all the children are going to write letters to pen pals this year. Mrs. Kipler is willing to let the children find their own pen pals, but she would prefer it if they let her assign them one. Tate knows exactly who she is going to ask to be her pen pal. For the last month Tate has been listening to a musician called Hank Williams perform on the Louisiana Hayride show on the radio. She loves his music and so she decides that he is going to be her pen pal.

Per her teacher’s instructions, Tate tells Hank Williams all about herself. She describes her appearance and tells him about her little brother, whom every calls Frog. She also tells him that her father is a famous photographer who travels around the world, and her mother is “in the picture-show business.” Since her parents are hardly ever there, Tate lives with Aunt Patty Cake and Uncle Jolly. Aunt Patty Cake sells cosmetics to the local ladies, and Uncle Jolly works at a plant nursery. He also falls in love with inappropriate women, and therefore has his heart broken on a regular basis. When this happens, he goes on a drinking binge and gets hopelessly drunk.

Tate’s mother is a wonderful singer and Tate is convinced that she too has a lovely voice. She is determined to participate in the Rippling Creek May Festival Talent Contest. She does not have anyone to help her improve her singing, but this does not stop her from practicing her singing as often as she can.

One day Tate demonstrates her singing to the daughter of one of Aunt Patty Cake’s clients, and the little girl tells Tate that she needs to sing “from your heart.” Tate is stung by these words, but she also takes them in, even though she does not really mean to.

In November Uncle Jolly is supposed to take Tate to the Father and Daughter Potluck Banquet, but when his girlfriend breaks up with him he ends up getting falling down drunk when he should be escorting his dressed up niece, and her Yam Mash, to the event. Tate tells Hank Williams all about this awful disappointment and then she reveals a painful secret to him: her father is not a photographer, and all he has given Tate is her name. In short, he has never really been a part of her life. Tate apologizes for lying, and then she goes on to explain who her mother really is, and this story is an even more painful one. Pretending that her mother is a movie star is so much easier than having to admit that her mother did something shameful.

With ever letter that we read, Hank Williams, and us readers, learns a little more about Tate, a young girl who has lost so much and who somehow still manages to be funny, optimistic, and hopeful. It is only at the very end of the story that Tate lets us fully into her life, and reveals the biggest secret of all, one that she has been hiding from us and from herself all along.

In this delicious book, humor, a powerful narrative, and wonderful characters are woven together to give readers a story that will stick with them long after they have read the final page.