Cover image for Hang a thousand trees with ribbons : the story of Phillis Wheatley
Hang a thousand trees with ribbons : the story of Phillis Wheatley
Publication Information:
Orlando, Fla. : Harcourt, c2005.
Physical Description:
336 p. ; 18 cm.
General Note:
Originally published: 1st Gulliver Books paperback ed., 1996.
Reading Level:
560 L Lexile
A fictionalized biography of the eighteenth-century African woman who, as a child, was brought to New England to be a slave, and after publishing her first poem when a teenager, gained renown throughout the colonies as an important black American poet.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available

On Order



Kidnapped from her home in Senegal and sold as a slave in 1761, a young girl is purchased by the wealthy Wheatley family in Boston. Phillis Wheatley--as she comes to be known--has an eager mind and it leads her on an unusual path for a slave--she becomes America's first published black poet. "Strong characterization and perceptive realism mark this thoughtful portrayal."-- Booklist

Author Notes

Young adult author Ann Rinaldi was born in New York City on August 27, 1934. After high school, she became a secretary in the business world. She got married in 1960 and stopped working, but after having two children she decided to try writing. In 1969, she wrote a weekly column in the Somerset Messenger Gazette and in 1970 she wrote two columns a week for the Trentonian, which eventually led to her writing features and soft new stories. She published her first novel Term Paper in 1979, but was ultimately drawn to writing historical fiction when her son became involved in reenactments while he was in high school. Her first historical fiction novel was Time Enough for Drums. She also writes for the Dear America series. She currently lives in Somerville, New Jersey with her husband.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up-Rinaldi's latest contribution to historical fiction tells the story of the first important African-American poet. Since Phillis Wheatley lived in Boston just before the Revolutionary War, readers get a dose of U.S. history as well. Rinaldi freely admits in her author's note that she has altered many facts to create "my own Phillis." In her biggest change from reality, she makes Nathaniel Wheatley, irthe handsome, bright, bored son of Phillis's owners, the girl's tutor. This teacher-pupil relationship, which develops into a full-scale crush on Phillis's part, dominates the book. Readers will be drawn in just as Phillis is, and will enjoy their conversations, quarrels, and activities. Unfortunately, Nathaniel is absent during the last few chapters and they consequently limp along, suffering from wordiness and an overabundance of historical data. Phillis's interview with George Washington, which concludes the novel, is sentimental and didactic-a disappointment rather than a celebration. Rinaldi writes well, gives an engrossing look at pre-Revolutionary War life with numerous interesting details, and brings her characters vividly to life. It's too bad she couldn't sustain the novel's initial excitement and appeal. Those who follow it through should also read Merle Richmond's Phillis Wheatley (Chelsea, 1988; o.p.), which sticks strictly to the facts and provides a fascinating contrast to Rinaldi's treatment.-Ann W. Moore, Guilderland Public Library, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Horn Book Review

This well-researched, fictionalized biography smoothly and effectively integrates substantial information about colonial times and what is known about the first published African-American poet. Although the author chooses a romanticized interpretation of Wheatley's life, she presents an intriguing and enjoyable portrait of an important woman in American history. An extensive author's note provides additional information. Bib. From HORN BOOK 1996, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

The short and not very happy life of America's first black poet, brought to vibrant life by Rinaldi (The Blue Door, p. 1241, etc.). Keziah is kidnapped from her village in Senegal in 1761 and handed over to a notorious slave trader for transport to America. She is brought to Boston, where she is purchased by the Wheatley family, who rename her Phillis after the ship on which she arrived. Nathaniel, the son and potential heir to the substantial Wheatley estate, becomes intrigued by the slave's intellect, and teaches her to read and write, then tutoring her in the Latin and Greek classics. Phillis's gift for writing poetry impresses the Wheatleys and their guests at their frequent soirees, but no American publisher will print her work; she is sent to England, where she is published to great acclaim. She is grudgingly granted freedom upon her return to Boston, but it does not bring the happiness she expected: She is not prepared to be on her own. A disastrous marriage ends with the deaths of her children and her own death at 30, and she is buried in a pauper's grave. A powerful portrait of an innocent who, uprooted from her world, enters another where she is allowed to rise above the average slave's lot; Rinaldi makes clear to readers that Wheatley's good fortune is a double-edged sword that destroys her. A tragic tale, beautifully written and researched. (Fiction. 12+)

Booklist Review

Gr. 7-12. Phillis Wheatley, America's first black poet, was a child when purchased by John Wheatley in 1761, and her entrance into his Boston household marked the beginning of her unique position. She was educated, nurtured, and encouraged to write by the prominent Wheatleys, but was never considered an equal because of her color. It is Phillis' dilemma of belonging to neither the white nor the slave society that Rinaldi so well delineates. Obviously deeply researched, the novel abounds with details of colonial life--encounters the Wheatleys had with America's early historical figures as well as the effects of the day's politics on Mrs. Wheatley's campaign to get Phillis' poetry published. The poet's circumstances deteriorated after the deaths of the Wheatleys, and she died at age 30 in abject poverty, her husband in debtor's prison. In contemplating this quick decline, Rinaldi questions the motives of Phillis' mentors and friends--did they consider her a serious poet or a plaything, a parlor conversation piece? And did they properly prepare her for the attention she received for her poetry? It is difficult to know, and the author, fortunately, does not make judgments but leaves it up to readers to decide for themselves. Strong characterization and perceptive realism mark this thoughtful portrayal. (Reviewed Sept. 1, 1996)0152008764Laura Tillotson