Subscribe to SLJ
Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Also Known As Harper by Ann Haywood Leal

Also Known As Harper by Ann Haywood Leal is going on my list of books to recommend to budding authors, Also Known As Harperpoets, and creative souls. 256 pages, Middle-Grade Fiction, Henry Holt, May, 2009. ISBN: 9780805088816 Check out the author’s blog.

There’s a bit of fantasy in the way author Ann Haywood Leal has everything the main character writes be perfect and accepted appreciatively by all – readers and listeners. It is a childhood fantasy that what we do is great and those adults who don’t appreciate it are wrong. (Like Harper Lee’s father, the whiskey drinking no-good-man who left them when times were rough, and who was verbally abusive to the creative efforts of Harper and her mother).  I appreciate childhood fantasies and I could suspend my adult cynicism to thoroughly enjoy this book. 

There are moments of simple answers and amazing coincidences – two babies in the neighborhood die at birth so Harper can provide the emotional support for her obnoxious neighbor at a level far above her ten years of age. There’s an inheritance at just the right moment to provide a roof over their head, healing from trauma and the regaining of one’s voice. 

But those are shallow criticisms to make of this title that has beautiful writing that deeply affects the reader. Readers want happiness to occur and miracles to happen, so who am I to throw any aspersions on moments of happiness in an otherwise serious title? 

Also Known As Harper addresses homelessness, poverty, the problems of missing school, and coping with life when one tragedy after another pours down.  It is a moving story and will be appreciated by the students who yearn for more of life. Be prepared to offer opportunities for students to share their own work after reading this! 

Here is one of my very favorite passages:

"I read until my voice was raspy. The more I read, and the more they all listened, the happier I felt. I’d never felt better about my poems in all my life. Somehow, up on that porch, I just knew. My words were fine, and there was nothing Daddy or even Winnie Rae Early could do to change that.

Reviews by:
Amanda L Snow at A Patchwork of Books
Eva’s Book Addiction 
Shelf Elf
Mrs. Magoo Reads 
 and her interview with Ann Haywood Leal
Children’s Book of the Month Club selection
A Year of Reading: Two teachers who read alot

Literate Lives  I just had to share this portion of Bill’s review from Literate Lives, but I warn you that it is contains information that could be considered a spoiler: 

In the end, Harper never gets to enter the writing contest which she would undoubtedly win, she never gets to read her beautiful poetry in front of her school mates, in fact, her mother keeps her from going to school so she can work more hours. For Harper this is a tragedy since school has always been her one safe refuge from the world. Something we educators really need to be reminded of from time to time. However, Harper learns that there are more important things in the world than winning writing contests, things that aren’t temporary, things like friends, and family and the fact that no matter what anyone else says, she will always have her writing.

I like that the story doesn’t end with Harper getting her wish, it’s more realistic that way, but honestly, Harper gets much more. This is a must read! It has Grand Discussion written all over it! 

Great review writing, Bill. I appreciate what you shared and hope that school librarians add this title for grades 4-7.


  1. Thanks Diane! I will certainly be buying it for our library and it makes my Newbery short list for sure!