FICTION

When Grandmama Sings

978-0-68817-563-4.
COPY ISBN
Gr 2—4—Set in the segregated South of the 1950s, Mitchell's poignant story features eight-year-old Belle and her loving, stalwart African-American family. When Grandmama, who can't read but whose singing voice captures the hearts of all who hear her, joins a jazz band for a tour of the South, Belle pleads to go along. Thrilled to expand her world beyond Pecan Flats, MS, she experiences firsthand the difficulties her people face: hotels marked "White Only," diners that refuse them service, police who search their cars and luggage for no reason. Through it all, Grandmama sings to growing crowds, believing in the power of music to bring people together. When, at the story's end, a recording contract beckons her "up north," Grandmama tells Belle to believe in herself and "sing her own song." Ransome's full-page images, rich in color and feeling, portray the landscapes of the South and the individual emotions of the characters with equal aplomb. Placed in the past, the message is still relevant for children today.—Barbara Elleman, Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, MA
Narrator Belle recounts accompanying her grandmother on a singing tour through the segregated South. Eight-year-old Belle nervously points out the "whites only" signs wherever they go, but Grandmama is undeterred. The narration is calm and matter-of-fact, like Grandmama, who remains focused on what's right; in contrast, Ransome's paintings show the shame, sadness, and anger the characters feel. An excellent book for discussion.
From the author and the illustrator of Uncle Jed's Barbershop (rev. 11/93) comes another picture book about life in the segregated South. The narrator recounts her grandmother's story -- she couldn't read but "always had a song to sing" -- which centers on Grandmama's singing tour with her eight-year-old granddaughter there to keenly observe everything. Grandmama and her musicians initially draw small crowds, and young Belle nervously points out the "whites only" signs wherever they go, but Grandmama is undeterred. Gradually word spreads about Grandmama's talent as the tour continues, but the group still must contend with suspicion from Alabama police. The narration is calm and matter-of-fact, like Grandmama, who remains focused on what's right, while in contrast Ransome's paintings show the shame, sadness, and anger the characters feel. Mitchell's latest picture book gives modern-day children a realistic depiction of the small humiliations and frightening moments African American travelers went through in their daily lives during the Jim Crow era, and it makes an excellent book for discussion. susan dove lempke

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