When Grandmama Sings

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Publication: The Horn Book Magazine
Author: Lempke, Susan Dove
Date published: January 1, 2012

When Grandmama Sings by Margaree King Mitchell; illus. by James E. Ransome Primary Amistad/HarperCollins 40 pp. 1/12 978-0-688-17563-4 $16.99

From the author and the illustrator of Uncle Jed's Barbershop (rev. 1 1/93) 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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