On My Bookshelf: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

August 29, 2016

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis follows the life of Hattie Shepherd and her children, beginning in 1923 and moving toward present day. Each of the children has his or her own unique struggles set against the backdrop of a changing America. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: In 1923, fifteen-year-old Hattie Shepherd, swept up by the tides of the Great Migration, flees Georgia and heads north. Full of hope, she settles in Philadelphia to build a better life. Instead she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment, and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins are lost to an illness that a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children, whom she raises with grit, mettle, and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them to meet a world that will not be kind. Their lives, captured here in twelve luminous threads, tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage—and a nation's tumultuous journey.

Why I liked it: The novel begins in the 1920s with the death of Hattie’s twins. Each chapter that follows introduces one of Hattie’s children, “her tribe,” with a few chapters interspersed focused on Hattie. The death of her first children and the hardships of poverty cause Hattie to be a tough love kind of mother. She doesn’t want her children to be disappointed by life.

As each chapter of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie focuses on a different character, each chapter is also a peek into a different time period. In addition to the changing moments in history, each of Hattie’s children has his or her own unique struggles. Some struggle with their sexuality, others with mental health issues, another with alcoholism, one with a religious calling and another with tuberculosis. 
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis follows the life of Hattie Shepherd and her children, beginning in 1923 and moving toward present day. Each of the children has his or her own unique struggles set against the backdrop of a changing America. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

Classroom application: This text would be a great fiction pairing in an African American history
or American history course. If you've seen the film The Butler, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie covers roughly the same time periods. The two would make a great pairing for ELA CCSS #7 (analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment).

If you are covering the topics of racism and the civil rights movement, the chapter that focuses on Pearl (Hattie's younger sister) and her husband’s drive up from the South would be a good chapter to utilize. The husband and wife stop by the side of the road for a picnic dinner on their drive to Philadelphia. A group of white men pulls up and forces the two to leave the park. The scene is not violent, but incredibly tense and full of powerful emotions (fear and humiliation).

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The Twelve Tribe of Hattie for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

For more reading suggestions for students and teachers:



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2 comments

  1. This book sounds right up my alley! I love books that alternate point of view by character and any story about overcoming hardships! Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Thanks for this amazing find! I really love stories told from multiple perspectives, so the fact that each chapter focuses on a different tribe is fabulous.

    Happy reading!

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