The Crying Rocks

The Crying Rocks

by Janet Taylor Lisle


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From Newbery Honor author Janet Taylor Lisle comes a lyrical story about one girl’s discovery of her startling past—and her search to understand her complicated present.

Joelle’s height and dark skin set her apart from everyone in Marshfield. It’s no secret that she’s adopted, but where is she from? Aunt Mary Louise says she came from Chicago on a freight train, but the story doesn’t sit right with Joelle. There’s something more. She feels it.

Carlos, the quiet boy in Joelle’s Spanish class, sees it. When he tells her that she looks like a girl in the town library’s old mural of Narragansett Indians, Joelle can’t help sneaking a look. She’s surprised by a flicker of recognition. And when Carlos tells her about the Crying Rocks, where the ghosts of Narragansett children are said to cry for their lost mothers, Joelle knows she must visit them.

When they finally set out through the forest, neither she nor Carlos anticipates the power of the ancient place, or the revelations to be found there—about the pasts they’ve both buried, and the discovery of a rare kind of courage that runs deep in Joelle’s family.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781481479769
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 05/16/2017
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 1,209,652
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 12 Years

About the Author

Janet Taylor Lisle’s books for young readers have received the Newbery Honor Award (Afternoon of the Elves), the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction (The Art of Keeping Cool), Holland’s Zilveren Griffel, and Italy’s Premio Andersen Award, among other honors. A graduate of Smith College and former journalist, Janet lives in Rhode Island and often draws on Rhode Island history in her work. Visit her online at

Read an Excerpt

The Crying Rocks

  • EVERY MORNING BEFORE JOELLE COMES out of the house to go to school, there is little Michiko Martin waiting for her on the sidewalk. She stands behind the low prickly hedge, dangling her lunch box in one hand and staring with worshipful eyes at Joelle’s front door, whose paint is peeling off and screen is ripped.

    “That Chinese girl is out there again,” Aunt Mary Louise calls, catching sight of her figure from the upstairs window. “What’s she want with you, anyway, a little kid like that?”

    “Nothing,” Joelle yells back, “and don’t bother to come down. I’m making my own breakfast.”

    Aunt Mary Louise hasn’t been feeling up to par since summer. First it was her back. Now her legs are giving her trouble. She used to get up at 6:00 a.m. to fix Vernon something to eat before he left for work at the turkey ranch. Lately, she’s not even making it downstairs before Joelle has to leave.

    The moment Joelle appears at the door, Michiko’s mouth drops open an inch or so. Her fine-rimmed eyes widen, as if she’s seen something marvelous. Joelle strides across the beat-up lawn on her long legs and pushes through the prickly hedge, now bristling with the red berries of fall.

    “How’s it going, Michiko?”

    “Okay,” she says.

    “So what’s for lunch today?” Joelle asks, looking down at the lunch box.

    “A bologna sandwich without mustard, and a boiled egg,” Michiko barely breathes, collapsed with shyness.

    “Well, that’s a surprise,” Joelle says, trying to keep things light. “That is truly a big surprise.”

    Michiko nods. She eats the same thing for lunch every day. Seven days a week, four weeks a month, twelve months a year, a bologna sandwich without mustard, and a boiled egg. Joelle could say something mean about this if she wanted, but she holds back. Michiko is too little to rag on.

    “Do you have art today?” she asks instead, stooping over to speak as they begin to walk along. Michiko, who is eight, is very small for her age, while Joelle, at thirteen, has grown unusually tall, five feet nine inches at last measurement and still going. There must have been a church steeple somewhere back in her family tree, Aunt Mary Louise often jokes.

    “No art today,” Michiko answers, just above a whisper. She has coal-black hair like Joelle, but shiny and sleek instead of thick. As best she can, she’s wearing it the same way Joelle’s wearing hers, pinned back with barrettes behind the ears.

    “Oh yeah, I forgot. Only on Fridays, right? That’s terrible, art just once a week. They should have it more. Especially for people like us, who really love it.”

    “You like it too?” Michiko dares to ask. She’s not really Chinese, but Japanese. Or rather, half Japanese. Aunt Mary Louise knows this, she just doesn’t always remember to make the distinction. Michiko’s mother came from Japan when she was a child herself, and later met and married her father, who is an American. Michiko was born and has lived her whole life so far just down the street.

    “I used to,” Joelle says, “when I was your age. I remember we made necklaces out of beer tabs one time. And another time we carved pendants out of wood. You know what a pendant is, right? It’s like a charm you wear around your neck? I’ve still got mine somewhere. Do they let you do jewelry?”

    Michiko doesn’t answer. She peeks up at Joelle, then glances away fast, as if she’s walking with the sun or, anyway, with something too bright to look at for very long.

    “Are you really a lost royal princess?” she blurts out suddenly. “Penny Perrino said you are but you don’t want to tell people.”

    Joelle comes to a stop and looks down. “A what?” she explodes. “A lost what?”

    Michiko jumps.

    “Listen, don’t ask me that stuff,” Joelle yells at her. “I don’t want to hear that stuff anymore, okay?”

    Michiko’s mouth quivers and she stares at the ground.

    “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell.” Joelle puts her arm around Michiko’s narrow shoulders. They start walking again. “I’m just tired of questions like that, all right? I don’t even want to think about questions like that.”

    Michiko nods sadly. Soon her sunstruck face is glancing up, though. Both of them know that tomorrow morning she’ll be standing outside Joelle’s house, waiting to walk with her again.

    As everyone in school and many people in the small town of Marshfield, Rhode Island, are aware, Joelle is adopted. Aunt Mary Louise was open about it right from the beginning, though she needn’t have said a word and anyone could have guessed. Joelle has never looked the least thing like her, or like Vernon, her adoptive father, for that matter. Where they are sandy-colored, Joelle is dark. Where they are heavy and earthbound, she is agile and quick. Joelle carries herself with a brisk aloofness that bears no resemblance to her aunt’s hearty manner. Perhaps it’s these differences that have inspired people to speculate about Joelle’s background over the years. She’s sick of it. This new rumor of royal blood is particularly crazy. Michiko’s friend, Penny, probably picked up a strand of gossip at school this fall. Now, in the girls’ minds, and also in the minds of a number of their friends, Joelle has become something exotic and fascinating.

    On her way home from school Joelle often sees this group of girls huddled across the street in front of their elementary school, watching for her. They’re the walkers, the ones who live close enough so their parents don’t worry about them coming and going by themselves. They’re there when she walks by this afternoon, whispering frantically behind their hands.

    She told me she doesn’t like to talk about being a princess, Joelle imagines Michiko saying. Which must mean she is one!

    Michiko must have passed along some story since this morning because everyone falls silent and follows Joelle with knowing eyes as she goes by. Joelle doesn’t speak to them. She holds her head up and strides on. It’s become embarrassing, this pack of little girls always on her tail. She stands out enough as it is, and not in a way that’s any good to stand out.

    In her own class Joelle isn’t popular. There her height is a sign of weirdness. The boys are all shorter. Besides, people notice her skin. It’s a dusty auburn color unlike anyone else’s. The black kids know she’s not one of them. She doesn’t look Hispanic or Asian, either.

    “Where do you think you’re from?” someone asked her just the other day, the girl named Melinda, who wears black eyeliner and high-heeled boots to class.

    “Where do you think you’re from, Playboy?” Joelle had fired back, loudly, so everyone would hear.

    She has a talent for saying the perfect terrible thing to stop people in their tracks. To keep them away. The “in” girls avoid her like the plague. Even the older boys are wary, ever since she told Buddy Guinn, the football captain, his fly was open and he actually looked down.

    “Get lost, okay?” Joelle shouts over her shoulder to Michiko and her troop, who are sneaking along in her wake. She flashes around the corner and heads down the first of three long blocks toward home. There on the sidewalk ahead of her is that kid Carlos, who’s in her Spanish class. You’d think with a name like Carlos he could already speak Spanish, but he can’t. He’s at square one, the buenos días–muchas gracias level, with her.

    Just as she’s about to catch up and pass him, he leans way over and grabs something off the ground. Then he crouches down to look at it in his hand.

    Joelle doesn’t especially want to talk to him, but there he is, blocking her path, so she says, “Excuse me!” in a sarcastic voice.

    The kid leaps a mile and spins around. “Sorry! I didn’t think anyone was behind me.”

    “Well, they were,” Joelle says, stepping out to go around him. She tries to see what’s in his hand, but he snaps his palm shut, practically on her nose.

    “The crown jewels?” she asks, coming to a halt.

    Carlos shakes his head, embarrassed. He has a long, thin face and, when he looks up at her, gray eyes.

    “Scientific research?” Joelle suggests next. “Mutant ants? Killer worms?”

    “Ha-ha,” Carlos says, not laughing. He opens his hand and lets Joelle peer in.

    “A stone,” she says. “Brilliant.”

    “Not a stone, an arrowhead.”

    “No kidding.” Joelle bends closer.

    “See this edge? It’s been honed.”


    “Sharpened. It’s man-made, but a long time ago. You can see the striations of a sharpening tool, most likely another rock. Native Americans were all around here, you know. This is Narragansett, probably.”

    Joelle steps away. Carlos is at least two inches shorter than she is, and his hand is muddy. She remembers him from class, one of the hyperserious morons who live in the back row.

    “So what is this? You go around collecting Indian stuff? It’s just lying on the ground after all these years? You can lean over and there’s an arrowhead?” She looks at him skeptically.

    “Yes, you can,” Carlos says, staring back. “Anyone can find them. Here and in the forest.” He swings his arm wide to indicate the back-roads area that starts about a mile down the main road. “I have a bunch of these. I found an ax head one time.”

    “An ax head. Well, no thank you,” Joelle says. “I’m not into Indians at the moment. I’m into keeping a move on so the posse doesn’t catch up with me.” She points over his shoulder to where a bustle of little-girl feet is just rounding the corner.

    “Hasta la vista,” she tells Carlos, and takes off. The last she sees of him, he’s turned around and is taking stock of Michiko and her approaching troop, as if they’re some weirdly interesting collectible phenomenon in their own right.

    *  *  *

    About Joelle’s life before she was adopted, there isn’t a lot known for sure.

    This is probably a good thing, Aunt Mary Louise has said, since the few facts that have turned up are not exactly happy, and they point off in directions that could end up being worse. Aunt Mary Louise still gets indignant just thinking about the whole situation.

    What would have happened if Joelle hadn’t been rescued when she was? Where would she be now if Vernon and Aunt Mary Louise hadn’t been there, practically on the spot, when she was brought in from the railway depot? A scrawny five-year-old child, abandoned by the world!

    Joelle doesn’t like this kind of question any more than the one Michiko asked about being a princess.

    “Don’t ask me! I can’t remember anything,” she snaps at Aunt Mary Louise. It’s the truth, she can’t. Whatever happened during those first five years, there’s no trace of it left in her mind. She has feelings sometimes, odd flashes of having done something or been somewhere before, but they never lead anywhere. Still, she keeps her ears open whenever the subject comes up. There’s always the chance some fresh clue might surface, a fragment of a truth that she could plug into the scanty body of her larger truth.

    Joelle has never told anyone this, but over the years she’s woven together a story about herself based on the few facts Aunt Mary Louise has been able to supply. It’s about how this little baby was born in Chicago to a mother who couldn’t take care of it. She tried, for four years she tried, but she was too young, or too poor, or maybe she got sick, who knows? Whatever, she ended up penniless, on welfare, living in a series of bad apartments, and while she was in one of them her child, in a moment of senselessness, was thrown out a third-story window.

    “Me?” Joelle had asked when she first heard this. “I was thrown?”

    “Cast to the winds,” Aunt Mary Louise declared. “What you must think of the world!”

    Joelle had known right away it couldn’t have happened that way. No mother on Earth would cast her child to any wind. The way Joelle imagines it, she got pushed out by accident or crawled too far over the sill. She can’t prove it, though, because after the window episode, the facts in the story get even sketchier.

    The mother vanishes from the scene while the child, apparently recovered from her fall, ends up in an orphanage, then disappears from Chicago altogether. Nothing more is known about her.

    “So, how did I get here?” Joelle had naturally asked.

    “They say you rode east on a freight train,” is all Aunt Mary Louise can come up with.

    “A freight train! Why?”

    Aunt Mary Louise shrugs. No explanation has come to light. Was the trip a result of falling out the window? Was the child being delivered to another family? No one knows. Time has passed. Layers of other facts have settled over the first facts, sealing them off, holding them, for the moment, incommunicado.

    When the child surfaces again she is living in a wooden crate near a railway depot in southern Connecticut, under the care of an elderly woman who has taught her to scavenge for half-smoked cigarettes and cigar stubs along the tracks.

    “That’s what you used to do for a living,” Aunt Mary Louise teases Joelle whenever she tells this part of the story, which suddenly blooms with detail—whether real or an extension of Aunt Mary Louise’s colorful imagination, is unclear. “You’d get sent out every day to look for butts lying in the dirt. Only when you found enough—say, ten or so—were you allowed to come back and give them to the old lady. Who was a nutcake, I guess. Probably one of those loonies they let out of the state bin. Then she’d give you a piece of candy or a pack of crackers. If you didn’t find any butts, I suppose you wouldn’t get anything to eat.”

    “Well, I can’t remember,” Joelle replies.

    “Just as well,” Aunt Mary Louise says, lighting up a cigarette of her own. She’s always got her pack nearby.

    “I can’t remember being born in Chicago, or falling out the window, or riding the freight train, either,” Joelle announces. “You keep saying I did all that, but how do I know?”

    “Oh, you did it all right.” Aunt Mary Louise nods. “Family Services checked up on you before the papers got signed. They said we should know what we were letting ourselves in for.”

    This is another joke Aunt Mary Louise likes to tell, the “what we were letting ourselves in for” joke. And Joelle had always allowed it to go by. She hadn’t liked it, but she let it go, until last week when hearing it one more time, she’d surprised herself by getting furious.

    “You made that up!” she’d yelled at Aunt Mary Louise. “Family Services never would’ve said that. It’s too mean to the little child. Anyway, I wasn’t the only one they had to check out before the papers got signed. They checked out you and Vernon, too. They don’t just hand kids over like a fruit basket, you know!”

    Aunt Mary Louise was astonished.

    “Sweetie, don’t get so upset. Of course they checked us out,” she’d answered, tapping her cigarette in midair by mistake and dripping ashes down the front of her sweater.

    For some reason, this had made Joelle even madder.

    “Why don’t you quit that smoking?” she’d yelled at her. “It’s making you sick. Sick!” She’d run into her room and slammed the door.

    But later she’d come out and put her arms around Aunt Mary Louise’s neck and hugged her.

    “I guess I was more upset than I thought,” she whispered.

    “I shouldn’t wonder,” Aunt Mary Louise said, “after all you’ve been through.” She forgave her and hugged her back.

    “And don’t you worry, there’s nothing wrong with me,” she’d told Joelle. “I’m just tired, sweetie. I’m taking a little rest. I’ll be back to my old self in no time, you’ll see.”

  • Reading Group Guide

    A Simon Pulse Guide for Reading Groups
    The Crying Rocks
    By Janet Taylor Lisle
    About the Book
    There isn't a lot known for sure about Joelle's life before she was found-brought in from the railway depot, a scrawny five-year-old child.
    "And don't ask me! I can't remember anything," she snaps at anyone who pries, including the quiet boy named Carlos who sits in the back row in Spanish class. But when Carlos tells her she looks like a girl in an old painting of Rhode Island's Narragansett Indians, a flicker of recognition surprises Joelle.
    Carlos leads her through the forest to the ancient Crying Rocks, where howls on windy days are thought to be the spirit voices of children long ago, flung from the boulders to early death. The terrible story sparks memories and leads Joelle toward the history of a lost American people, and to her own past as well.
    Discussion Questions
    1. What does Aunt Mary Louise tell Joelle about her past? How does this make Joelle feel? Why?
    2. "If you're related to someone, by blood, do you have feelings for them that you can't help, that are just built in?" Joelle wonders. "Is there some genetic thread that keeps you connected?" What do you think? If, in fact, Joelle believes this to be true, how might this affect her relationship with her uncles?
    3. Joelle gives Carlos a hard time when they first meet to go to the woods, but she decides to "put him back in charge" when she realizes his feelings are hurt. "When you look too smart, ask a question," Lisle writes. "Every girl knows this." Why would Joelle believe this? Support your answer with examples from your own life.
    4. Why does Uncle Vernon keep Joelle's past a secret? Was it fair of Vernon to hide the truth from Aunt Mary Louise and from Joelle? Why? What impact does this secret have on Joelle? In what ways do you think Joelle might have been different if she knew the truth all along?
    5. What do Joelle and Carlos have in common? How does their friendship help each of them come to terms with the past?
    6. As they research the history of the Narragansett tribe in Rhode Island, and trek deeper into the forest in search of the Crying Rocks, Joelle and Carlos begin to learn more about their personal history as well. What experiences do they have in the forest that bring them closer to the truth?
    7. Joelle says she has trouble remembering anything before age five, yet throughout the book memories keep cropping up. What triggers these memories? What does Joelle remember? What images does she see? Why do you think she does not remember her early childhood?
    8. Joelle develops a friendship with Misti, the little girl that lives down the street. They grow closer over time. Writes Lisle: "Misti has found a place in [Joelle] that, mysteriously, and inexplicably, needed filling." What need does Misti fulfill? How does Joelle's relationship with Misti help Joelle to heal old wounds and reconnect with her past?
    9. "One of Lisle's underlying themes in the novel is how cultures blend in our society so that surface appearance often no longer tells the true story of identity. Misti looks Asian, though she is only half Japanese and has lived her whole life in America. Carlos looks American but his name is Spanish and he is partly of Sioux heritage. What other cultural combinations appear in the story, not only of personal identity, but in food, in language, in religions, among others?"
    10. How does Joelle's relationship with Uncle Vernon change after the death of Aunt Mary Louise?
    11. In the book's final scene, Joelle spots Queenie walking up one side of the Crying Rocks, but Queenie soon disappears. "I couldn't tell if she was listening or crying," Joelle says to Carlos. What do you think Queenie was doing? Explain, using details from the story.
    12. What research do you think Janet Taylor Lisle had to do in order to write The Crying Rocks? How does she integrate historical fact into a work of fiction?
    Activities & Research
    1. Draw or paint a portrait of Joelle based on descriptions in the book and on your own research into the Narragansett tribe.
    2. Learn more about the Narragansett tribe by visiting or your local library. Specifically, seek information about the tribe's encounter with European settlers. Think about how Lisle incorporates this history into The Crying Rocks.
    3. Chart Joelle's development, showing how she changes over the course of the book. Format the chart like a time line, but instead of using dates, choose turning points, such as Joelle's trip to the library to see the Narragansett mural, to mark points in time. Note Joelle's response to each event.
    4. Create a diorama that depicts a scene from the book. Possibilities include one of Joelle and Carlos's trips to the forest, Joelle's first meeting with her uncles, or Joelle's and Carlos's meeting with Queenie around the campfire.
    5. Use a Venn diagram to compare Joelle and Carlos. Use one side of the diagram to describe Joelle and the other side to describe Carlos. In the center, where the circles overlap, take note of what Joelle and Carlos have in common.
    6. Design a new front and back cover for The Crying Rocks. For the front cover, think about important scenes from the book, and consider what images from the book would attract the most readers. On the back cover, write a brief, yet intriguing synopsis that will give readers an idea of what the book is about and pique their curiosity.
    7. Write your own review for The Crying Rocks on While you're there, read reviews of Lisle's other books. Select a title you might like to read next.
    8. Imagine a sequel to The Crying Rocks. What do you think would happen to the book's main characters? Think specifically about Joelle's relationships-with Uncle Vernon, her other uncles, Carlos and Misti. Write a book jacket blurb summarizing the sequel.
    About the Author
    Janet Taylor Lisle's novels for young readers include six selected as Best Books of the Year by School Library Journal: Sirens and Spies, The Lampfish of Twill, Forest, A Message from the Match Girl (from the Investigators of the Unknown series), The Lost Flower Children, and Afternoon of the Elves, a Newbery Honor Book. The Art of Keeping Cool was a Horn Book Fanfare title and winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. Ms. Lisle lives with her family on the coast of Rhode Island.
    This reading group guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
    Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing •

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    The Crying Rocks 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This book has been one of my favorites since I was a child. I understood the characters ambition to find out more about her sister and the tragic ending of it all. I hold this book near and dear to my heart.
    Jdonldsn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    In this courageous and spirited ¿Who am I and where did I come from?¿ story of two thirteen year-olds, readers will ride the emotional roller coaster until they glide into the end that leaves the reader feeling fulfilled as the characters make their own peace with life.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    The crying rocks by Janet Taylor Lisle is a very touching story. I believe readers will connect with Joelle on many different levels.Weather it¿s the loss of someone close to them or simply a past they feel uncomfortable talking about, readers will feel for Joelle and her family. The story is written in a way that helps you see every aspect without making any characters out to be ¿good guys¿ or ¿bad guys¿¿ , and makes it possible to see all of the character¿s emotions without being too touchy feely to get a strong point across. Joelle finds herself trying to piece together the scraps of her native american ancestory as well as attempting to understand the choice her mother made in leaving her alone as a child. This book is filled with a perfect amount of detail and forshadowing , as well as characters that readers can realte to , but still manages never to be boring or predictable. This is truly A book worth reading. I recommend this book for anyone struggling with facing their past, or anyone who is interested in a very simply but beautifuly written story.