Books by Angela Johnson

A GIRL LIKE ME by Angela Johnson
Released: Feb. 4, 2020

"A great way to spark real-world conversations with other girls 'like me.' (Picture book. 4-8)"
A book to inspire the next diverse generation of girls to keep working toward breaking glass ceilings no matter how often the world tells them, "A girl like you needs to stop." Read full book review >
Released: May 6, 2014

"The richness of this book's words and images will inspire readers to learn more about this holiday that never should have been necessary…but was. (Web resources, glossary) (Picture book. 5-9)"
Johnson tells a tale of Juneteenth in Texas through the eyes of a child, while Lewis' earth-toned watercolor illustrations capture the quotidian aspects of the way of life emancipation ended. Read full book review >
Released: March 5, 2013

"Bound to be a favorite for storytimes, classroom sharing and pre-library visits. After all, libraries are the best place. (Picture book. 5-8)"
Librarians get out your order pads; this picture-book homage to libraries is a charmer. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 28, 2012

"A wonderfully crafted and deeply satisfying novel, full of detail that provides texture and meaning. (Fiction. 14 & up)"
Scotty's world is turned upside down when an accident leaves her brother severely injured, an acquaintance dead and Scotty feeling responsible. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 30, 2011

Sure, she lives here, but she also plays, pretends and occasionally gets in trouble in this lively story about a young African-American girl and her Papa Pete. Read full book review >
THE DAY RAY GOT AWAY by Angela Johnson
Released: Sept. 7, 2010

A huge yellow parade balloon manages to slip his tether and elude his handlers. Seen partially, big grin in place, Ray's sunny yellow roundness peeks through windows, at the edges of the frames and from behind buildings. Bright colors and cartoon illustration add to a feeling of celebration and wildly cheerful chaos as the parade is interrupted by Ray's unexpected escape. "It was rare for a balloon like Ray, / who had been good for years, / to decide that ‘today was the day.' " Johnson's lyrically reportorial, enigmatic text offers no answers, just a slyly subversive account of the shenanigans. "That day the parade was a disaster: / clowns everywhere, / bands backed up downtown, / ... / paper flowers as far as the eye could see, / ... and Ray, / shining bright, smiling (he always did)." There's plenty to talk about: What kind of balloon is Ray? What is going to happen? Some may wish for a back story—or to know what happens to Ray as he continues sedately skyward—but small listeners who occasionally tire of holding hands every time they go out may find Ray's boldness thrilling and poetically liberating. (Picture book. 2-5)Read full book review >
SWEET, HEREAFTER by Angela Johnson
Released: Jan. 5, 2010

Sweet never really fit in at home or at school, but she has satisfying friends and connections. Few are surprised when she leaves—or is kicked out of—her family home, but there is talk in her small town when she moves into a cabin in the woods with a young man. Curtis, somewhat mysterious, is a military reservist and college student, home from Iraq and—perhaps—AWOL. "I've had secret parts of me since I was little. I'm used to it, and I guess it makes sense I'd love the secret parts of another," she says. Sweet doesn't question Curtis's enveloping sadness, and there is an air of inevitability about the way he avoids returning to war. Johnson's evocative yet starkly simple language powerfully shows the devastating effects of the war on one small community. Whether in a scene at a high-school career fair with military recruiters or in the conversations between Sweet and teens readers met in the book's award-winning companions, Heaven (1998) and The First Part Last (2003), the characters and circumstances are never anything less than rich and real. (Fiction. YA)Read full book review >
WIND FLYERS by Angela Johnson
Released: Jan. 9, 2007

In spare, lyrical prose and vibrant acrylic paintings, three-time Coretta Scott King Award-winner Johnson and acclaimed illustrator Long introduce readers to the WWII Tuskegee airmen, the African-American squadron that "distinguished themselves as the only escort group that never lost a single bomber to enemy fire." Johnson's young narrator tells the story of his great-great-uncle who so loved to fly that with "his arms flapping, he jumped off a chicken coop when he was five," went up with a barnstormer when he was 11 and went on to become a Tuskegee wind flyer in the war. This will no doubt inspire important conversations about history and race, but the heart of the piece has to do with the universal desire to follow our passions, overcome obstacles and realize our dreams. Nothing makes this clearer than Long's illustrations, which draw readers in, making them feel as though they too are gazing up into the perfect blue of the sky. Just as surely as the narrator and his uncle find magic in the clouds and the wind, readers will find plenty to marvel at in the pages of this compelling offering. (author's note) (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 2007

Lewis's dynamic brush combines two art styles to show the interaction between a girl's real life and her imaginative life inside her paintings. Lily Brown "loves her mama, daddy, and baby brother and the world they live in," but nothing compares to her passion for painting, an act that "makes her world start to change." The universe becomes "a big colorful splash": stars from the sky patronize sidewalk cafés, trees wear hats and antelopes lounge in the park on chaises longues. A luscious spread shows jubilant apples, oranges, bananas and pears laughing and speaking. Lewis smoothly but intriguingly integrates his own deft watercolor skill with a child-like style representing Lily's work. The gorgeously shadowed and sophisticated figure of Lily with palette or brush is perfectly positioned next to a child-style portrayal of stars or a rainbow. This is about art and color as much as imagination. Lovely and buoyant. (Picture book. 3-7)Read full book review >
A SWEET SMELL OF ROSES by Angela Johnson
Released: Jan. 1, 2005

Two children take part in a freedom march in the days of the civil-rights struggle in the south. Martin Luther King Jr. is there, inspiring them with his words and actions. But the marchers are mostly ordinary citizens, old and young, "walking our way to freedom." Johnson carefully chooses simple, descriptive words and phrases that reach all the senses. The children listen to King's words, feel the bright sunlight, and smell the flowers along the road, as more and more people join the march, singing and clapping. They pass the haters, screaming at them from the side of the road. At day's end they return home, having played a small role in history. Velasquez's illustrations are marvelous, perfectly complementing the text and giving the words an extra punch and impact. He draws them entirely in charcoal with just a touch of red to draw the eye to the teddy bear's ribbon, the American flag, and the roses whose sweet smell accompanies the girls throughout the day. Powerful and moving. (Picture book. 6-10) Read full book review >
BIRD by Angela Johnson
Released: Sept. 1, 2004

Bird confronts friendship, family, and human limitations in this poignant tale. Thirteen-year-old Bird has run away from her Ohio home to search for her vanished stepfather. Hiding in a shed in Acorn, Alabama, Bird dances by moonlight and tries not to be too lonely. She can't help but get involved with the people she meets: Ethan, a boy whose life was saved by a heart transplant; Jay, whose brother died suddenly; and old Mrs. Pritchard, who used to bake peach cobbler before she lost her husband. Bird covetously observes the happy families of Acorn, but doesn't see that everyone has grief and tragedies to bear. Told through the alternating voices of Bird, Jay, and Ethan, this moving journey follows four lonely people as they touch each other's lives. A lovely and sad glimpse of individuals caring for one another in an imperfect world. (Fiction. 10-13)Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 2004

Peck's strong, evocative pastels with their vintage look are just right for Johnson's home run of a story. A girl tells of her Grandmama's birth and how her dad said his new baby would play just like the great Negro League catcher Josh Gibson. And so she did, practicing her hitting even though girls didn't play baseball in the '50s—except for one Fourth of July, when her cousin Danny's injury leaves an opening on his team. Grandmama hit the ball, caught the ball, and stole home—"just like Josh Gibson." The action takes place in memory, while the girl and her grandmother sit at a kitchen table with a photograph, bat, glove, and ball. An end note offers a brief bio of Gibson and makes reference to two female players who also have splendid picture books about them: Alta Weiss, who played pro ball in Deborah Hopkinson's Girl Wonder: A Baseball Story in Nine Innings (p. 232) and Jackie Mitchell, who struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig back-to-back in Marissa Moss's upcoming Mighty Jackie, the Strike-out Queen. Johnson never disappoints; in this one memory, family stories and baseball braid together a sweetly powerful and slyly subversive tale. (Picture book. 6-9)Read full book review >
VIOLET’S MUSIC by Angela Johnson
Released: Jan. 1, 2004

Children marching to the beat of different drummers may take comfort from this tale of a born musician who grows up playing alone, but never doubts that she will find kindred spirits one day. Violet is making music before she even leaves the maternity ward, but as she goes from rattle banging to pretend guitar, she can't find anyone who will join in. Huliska-Beith chronicles her search, and ever-appreciative family audience, in lively, undulant multimedia collages that nicely capture both the rhythms of Violet's music and the joy she takes in creating them. That joy is intensified when, playing in the park one day, she hears drums, a sax, and a voice chiming in; suddenly she's in a band, with mates who, likewise, never gave up their search for others like them. That message adds an extra level of meaning generally missing from similar tales of young music-makers. (Picture book. 7-9)Read full book review >
A COOL MOONLIGHT by Angela Johnson
Released: Sept. 1, 2003

The innovative Johnson has crafted an original story in both content and writing style. As eight-year-old Lila tells about being forced to avoid sunlight because of a chromosomal condition (xeroderma pigmentosum), the narrative is written entirely without capitalization, intimating that capital letters are missing like sunlight in Lila's life. Home-schooled, she lives for nighttime when she can be outside to play with her friends Elizabeth and Alyssa, dressed in their tutus and fairy wings, or to share mutant comic books with David from next door, or when her sister, Monk, drives her to the coffee shop. Even at night she wears a hat and she always wants raisins in cookies because they've been kissed by the sun. As Lila grapples with her cruel birthright and fills a secret sun bag with magic, the reader wonders if her fairy friends are real or imagined. Her dreams of becoming a superhero sun-goddess/moon-girl are uniquely realized at her ninth birthday party. Poignant, evocative, and as lingering as sunburn, Lila's story is one of courage, hope, and dreams. (Fiction. 8-11)Read full book review >
I DREAM OF TRAINS by Angela Johnson
Released: Sept. 1, 2003

In this poetic reverie, a sharecropper's son dreams of riding with Casey Jones and his fireman Sim Webb. The whistle of passing trains stirs something in the child: "Papa says it's the sound of leaving that speaks to my soul." In Long's stately paintings, done in dark browns and golds, Casey and Sim stand heroically, their oversized steam engine hurtles past like a storm cloud to its tragic end, and the child, always with an inward look, moves with his equally heroic father from cotton fields, through seasons, to an eventual, long-wished-for farewell on a train platform. In her afterword, Johnson suggests a link between the trains that Jones and his fellow engineers drove through the Mississippi Delta at the turn of the 20th century and the urge to go that sparked the Great Migration. Perhaps—but the dream of boarding a train to find one's "place in the big wide world" is one that echoes through every generation. (Picture book. 7-9)Read full book review >
THE FIRST PART LAST by Angela Johnson
Released: June 1, 2003

"It's the tale of one young man and his choices, which many young readers will appreciate and enjoy. (Fiction. YA)"
"The rules: If she hollers, she is mine. If she needs to be changed, she is always mine. In the dictionary next to ‘sitter,' there is not a picture of Grandma. It's time to grow up. Too late, you're out of time. Be a grown-up." Sixteen-year-old Bobby has met the love of his life: his daughter. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 2001

A series of spare, linked poems tell the story of a teenage girl's fleeting reunion with the mother who left her many years ago. The unnamed narrator describes her longing for her mother, her anticipation of the visit, her father and her Aunt Lucille, who helped raise her. Johnson's (Those Building Men, 2000, etc.) poetic style at its best distills the narrator's emotional state into a pure essence that immediately communicates itself to the child reader, as in "Cracks": "I don't step / on / cracks. / Ever. / I walk with / my head down. / Watching. / More careful than the others / with / mothers / that they take for granted." The poetic spotlight dances along, illuminating moments and emotions, but never dwelling overlong on any of its subjects. However lovely individual poems may be, though, the selection is rather odd. While most develop and extend the narrator's relationships with the key people in her life—father, aunt, mother Ludie (and hairdresser and psychiatrist, brilliantly paired in two poems)—others, such as a poem that muses about twins, seem plunked in to the sequence with little regard for their context. In a larger collection, they would serve to flesh out the narrator's character and environment, but this one is so slim that the occasional non-germane poem serves only to distract from the otherwise tight focus. Angelo's (Stepping Out with Grandma Mac, not reviewed) soft, black-and-white spot illustrations are pleasing enough but do not materially extend the text or really do justice to a self-described "grrl." Overall, however, this slender offering packs an honest emotional punch. (Fiction/poetry. 10-15)Read full book review >
THOSE BUILDING MEN by Angela Johnson
Released: Feb. 1, 2001

Vague text and anemic pictures make this at best a half-hearted tribute to the construction workers of the last century or so. In her brief, poetic text Johnson writes of "those shadowy building men . . . moving the earth to connect water," of "railroad workers . . . who were there to connect all." She continues: "As buildings tower above us / they tell the tales / of the cities . . . They whisper down past it all and say, / ‘They built us, your fathers . . .' " There is little here to engage child readers, either intellectually or emotionally, and Moser's remote, indistinct portraits of ordinary-looking men (only men) dressed in sturdy working clothes and, mostly, at rest, only intermittently capture any sense of individual or collective effort. In evident recognition of these inadequacies, a prose afterword has been added to explain what the book is about—a superfluous feature had Moser and Johnson produced work up to their usual standards. Let readers spend time more profitably with the likes of John Henry or Mike Mulligan. (Picture book. 6-8)Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 1, 2000

Following up Maniac Monkeys on Magnolia Street (1998), Johnson rejoins Charlie and her friends, Lump and Billy, for more neighborhood comings, goings, and hijinks. From wet and sloppy horseplay on a fishing expedition and the arrival of a new neighbor who can make his daughters disappear in a puff of smoke (he's a professional magician, as it turns out), to planting a flower garden with a new friend, and making an old man laugh by swinging a model of his beloved mule past his hospital window, readers will recognize familiar relationships and intriguing activities. Casting three of these seven easy-reading episodes as letters to and from summer camp, Johnson creates a sunny suburban world where pleasant surprises lurk behind every corner. Middle readers will find Magnolia Street well worth repeat visits. (Fiction. 9-11) Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 2000

A poignant story about enduring bonds adds a special touch to a common family experience. Every summer, the young narrator of the story, her brother, and their parents drive far out of the city into the country to visit the "Old Ones," the aunts and uncles who raised the children's father. When all seven greet the newly arrived visitors, the love and affection between the generations almost jumps off the page. As one of the uncles shows the two children old framed photos on a wall in the house and as the family eats together, the sense of continuity among all the members of the family and the fondness each one feels for each other, for the house, and for the countryside is almost palpable. While the children play in the trees and lake where the Old Ones and the children's father once played, the Old Ones retell the familiar stories about their own childhoods. Of course, the inevitable comes—summer vacation ends and the visitors go back to the city. The illustrations, painted in oils, ably complement the text. The double-page spreads of grassy meadows and fields, which bleed off the page, work especially well, better perhaps than the pages with white backgrounds, which feel somehow too empty. A fine book about a strong African-American family and a moving story about the relationship between children and the older members of a family that doesn't involve death, Alzheimer's Disease, or dwell too heavily on other problems of aging. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
THE WEDDING by Angela Johnson
Released: March 1, 1999

An older sister's wedding makes a girl feel lonely at first, but she is ultimately caught up in the bonds created by this big family gathering. This child's-eye view of matrimony picks up on the excitement of a large family wedding, plus the fears a child faces of losing an older sibling and of being overwhelmed by such a grown-up occasion. The adults include Daisy, the narrator, in all the pre-wedding planning; she is part of choosing a dress, food, and rooms for the big event. Soman's illustrations get all the details, postures, and facial expressions right, especially those of the girl as she samples foods or plays dress up in a bridal veil. These scenes are funny and personal; anyone who's been in a wedding will understand. In the end, the wedding unites rather than divides; sitting on the sofa with her family, the child's fears disappear. The only deterrent in this warm book is the archaic sense that the bride is being "taken away" by her man, which may reflect Daisy's perspective, but contradicts the impression readers have of "Sister" as an independent, thinking woman, who has chosen her groom just as he has chosen her. (Picture book. 4-7) Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 1, 1998

This chapter book finds Charlene, or Charlie, getting accustomed to a move to Magnolia Street. She misses her friends and her old neighborhood, but despite the dire warnings of her brother Sid, who alludes to "maniac monkeys" that live in trees and have carried off all the kids, Charlie soon hooks up with Billy. The two have a string of low-key, childlike adventures. They camp out in the mysterious trees, attempting to capture the monkeys; instead, they frighten their parents with their absence and wake up covered with glued-on fake fur, courtesy of Sid. Writing for a younger audience than that for any of her previous novels, Johnson (The Other Side, p. 1460, etc.) works in a more prosaic style; it lacks her usual lyricism, but is breezy and light, affectionately conveying Charlie's penchant for landing in trouble. Her sunny outlook and the recurring emphasis on friendship may win fans. (b&w illustrations, not seen) (Fiction. 7-11) Read full book review >
THE OTHER SIDE by Angela Johnson
Released: Oct. 1, 1998

Johnson (Gone From Home, p. 1036, etc.) offers a collection of poems that comprise a single, intricate story of the town of Shorter, Alabama, a place she "loved and hated." With its houses and red dirt roads, Shorter is being pulled down to make a dog track, and Johnson's poems tell readers what matters: the smell of soap at the Wash-a-Teria on a hot afternoon, the shack that hid her grief after her dog died, the carousel horse with the red saddle outside a store. Her whole family is there, in a town "where/every other person is/related to you/and thinks they know/everything about your/life." Her father is haunted by Vietnam; her best friend, T. Fanny, sends her grandmother a carton of cigarettes every year in memory of the time both girls were caught smoking and as punishment were put in the broom closet with a pack of unfiltereds; Uncle Fred has a scar across his face from trying to order lemonade in Montgomery. They burst into life in these poems and glisten with the affection Johnson lavishly bestows. Illustrated with family snapshots, this bittersweet volume will catch the heart of any reader who believes that growing up means leaving home behind. (Poetry. 10-14) Read full book review >
HEAVEN by Angela Johnson
Released: Sept. 1, 1998

After spending most of her life in bucolic Heaven, Ohio, a teenager finds her certainties come tumbling down. Marley Carroll likes her family, has two steady friends, and a wandering uncle, Jack, who sends her poetic letters describing his travels and asking about her thoughts and dreams. Her peace is shattered by the arrival of a different sort of letter, addressed to "Monna Floyd," from an Alabama deacon trying to reconstruct a burnt church's records; the people she calls Momma and Pops apologetically explain that they are actually her aunt and uncle, that Jack is her father, and that her mother died in an auto accident when she was very young. Devastated, cast adrift, Marley searches for her parents in a small box of mementos, and in early memories, meanwhile struggling, in light of her new knowledge, to redefine her other relationships. Ultimately, in her friends' situations as in her own, Marley finds clear evidence that love, more than blood, makes a family. Johnson (see review, above) uses the present tense to give her ruminative, sparely told story a sense of immediacy, creates a varied, likeable supporting cast and, without explicitly addressing every loose end, communicates a clear sense that Marley—and Jack, still working through his grief—are going to be all right. (Fiction. 11-13) Read full book review >
GONE FROM HOME by Angela Johnson
Released: Sept. 1, 1998

With her usual sensitivity to adolescent emotional landscapes fully evident in these 12 (11 new) short stories, Johnson (Humming Whispers, 1995, etc.) explores the notion of giving or receiving help in time of need. The help in these pages may be shelter, unquestioning friendship, or a comforting story; it comes from parents, peers, an unexpected source. Sometimes it doesn't come at all, as in the opener, "Sweetness," about a neglected child who can't get her church-focused mother's attention even by committing armed robbery. Several stories take surprising or humorous twists, such as "By The Time You Read This," which, until the laugh-out-loud ending, has all the earmarks of a suicide note. In others, children pursue or struggle to understand wayward parents or life-changing events. Ranging from anecdotes to novels-in-miniature, they are all written with an economy of expression that will appeal to less-practiced readers while still precisely—brilliantly—conveying complex situations and responses. (Short stories. 11-15) Read full book review >
SONGS OF FAITH by Angela Johnson
Released: April 1, 1998

A young African-American girl struggles to reconcile her parents' divorce and the subsequent fragmentation of her family in this eloquent and life-affirming novel from Johnson (Humming Whispers, 1995, etc.). The town of Harvey, Ohio, in the summer of 1975 isn't much of a playground for the narrator, 13-year-old Doreen, her younger brother, Robert, and their mother, Mama Dot: Plant closings and a stagnant economy have left it a desperate, depressed version of its former, thriving self. Yet Mama Dot attends Ohio University as a full-time student with plans to become a museum curator, and the kids have plenty of friends to play with, although the memory of their father, who recently moved to Chicago, is a source of constant sadness. The America that Johnson recreates is far removed from the Bicentennial euphoria the characters anticipate, one that reels from the Vietnam War as a destroyer of fathers and husbands, offering no comfort nor the reward of a decent job upon their return. Johnson is honest enough to offer no easy answers: While Doreen's father returns to the family, it is only for a visit; when he offers to take Robert, who has stopped talking, Doreen realizes that she must make yet another sacrifice. But the message is uplifting—even though her family cannot be together, and she is still in pain, Doreen is left at the conclusion still full of love and, more importantly, hope. (Fiction. 9-12) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1997

Steptoe (son of the late John Steptoe) creates art for 13 poems that honor fathers, e.g., Sonia Sanchez's ``I have looked into/my father's eyes and seen an/african sunset.'' Among others who have contributed to the volume are Folami Abiade (with the title poem), Lenard D. Moore, Dakari Hru, and Dinah Johnson. At times, elements of the poets' subject matter are depicted—photographed pennies are the background for the portrait of one father. Some poems are better than others; some are more message than art, although all of them are appealing. A particularly memorable sentiment is found in Davida Adedjouma's ``Artist to Artist,'' in which a woman appreciates that her artist father sorted mail ``all night and into the day'' for the family, and passed on to her the ``urge to create/characters with meat on their bones, in flesh-colored tones written in words as vivid'' as her crayon-box colors. Each piece elicits a work of art that translates beautifully to the printed page, from the jacket's gallery of small paintings to the half-title's portrait of a family—with smudged limbs and torsos, and heads made from painted discs or buttons—framed by colorful wooden beads. Brief biographies of the contributors appear in the back of this inventive, evocative book. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
DADDY CALLS ME MAN by Angela Johnson
Released: Sept. 1, 1997

This story from Johnson (The Rolling Store, p. 300, etc.) consists of four short verses (``Big Shoes,'' ``Spin,'' ``Noah's Moon,'' and ``Baby Sister'') about the happy home life of a young African-American boy. Family love and the shared stories and symbols that connect the generations are pervasive themes (as they are in all of Johnson's works); Mitchell embodies these themes in vivid oil illustrations by showing the boy narrator as the child of artists and introducing each of his poems with one of the parents' paintings. In the last spread, readers see the paintings hanging on the wall of the family's home studio. This may be a book to pair with Peter Catalanotto's The Painter (1995), for two glimpses of the lives of artists. (Picture book. 3-6) Read full book review >
THE ROLLING STORE by Angela Johnson
Released: March 1, 1997

Johnson (The Aunt in Our House, 1996, etc.) has an unnamed African-American girl recall her grandfather's words about the ``rolling store'' (an itinerant peddler's truck) that periodically visited a country crossroads when her grandfather was young. The spare, poetic text describes how this event was an excuse for an all-day social, with people coming from miles around to see, to visit, and to buy; meanwhile, the pictures not only illustrate those bygone days but also show the narrator and friend potting flowers, stringing bead necklaces, baking cookies, and making lemonade to stock their own ``rolling store'' in a little red wagon. The grandfather arrives just in time to hit the streets with the girls and their wagon and to call out the old vendor's song, ``We got it all. The Rolling Store has got it all.'' This is a lovely story of memories being passed on to and re-enacted by a later generation; children will relate to it instantly and grasp the double-layered story in the pictures. Catalanotto's golden pencil-and-watercolor paintings shimmer with the haze of memory and are dappled with summer sunlight and shadow. He closes the circle of the story so seamlessly that the illustrations in the first and last pages of the book clearly echo past and present. (Picture book. 4-7) Read full book review >
THE AUNT IN OUR HOUSE by Angela Johnson
Released: March 1, 1996

A restrained, somewhat sorrowful work from two frequent collaborators (The Leaving Morning, 1992, etc.). A brother narrates the changes he and his younger sister observe in their biracial household when their aunt—their father's sister—comes to stay. The text is spare: ``She brought a fish in a bowl/and a chair that she sat under a tree./ She said that we were hers now./The Aunt was ours too./So we watched the Aunt in our house.'' There is an undertone of abiding sadness here: ``But sometimes/The Aunt in our house/is quiet/and looks out the window all day.'' In some ways, the art outshines the text. The paintings, a happy marriage of pastel and watercolor, are immediate and exquisitely rendered. They provide the first clues that all is not well with the aunt; the two children are always engaging, anchoring all that is left unsaid to real people. Readers never know why the aunt has come to stay, but they will certainly understand that the family's life is enhanced by her presence in this subtle and affecting work. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
HUMMING WHISPERS by Angela Johnson
Released: April 1, 1995

The slow and melancholy stream of consciousness of Sophy, 14, whose life and thoughts revolve around her older sister, Nicole. The orphaned sisters live with their aunt in a poor part of Cleveland—a tight-knit African-American family, whose emotional burdens are shared by Nicole's devoted boyfriend and his neighbor, a Holocaust survivor. Sophy is a dancer, a student at an art school, with a penchant for hanging out in coffee shops and bus stations. Her narrative, which has little linear movement, loosely follows the ups and downs of Nicole's schizophrenia, jumping back and forth in time, while recording Sophy's increasing instability and fears for her mental health. Life has been unfair to Sophy and everything in it is covered by a veneer of tragedy, which makes the people who are kind to her appear, by contrast, exceptionally good: the aesthetics of rays of sunlight in the midst of a storm. Set against this background of moral extremes, however, the novel proceeds very gently, achieving a complex cumulative effect by means of a layered style. Sophy's monologue is an impressionistic array of unpredictable and idiosyncratic elements—details, snatches of conversations, memories, and philosophical observations—with which Johnson carefully and richly fleshes out the characters, above all the narrator herself. She weaves the innumerable details into a flowing, repetitive, often rhythmic text, made up of simple sentences (no subordinate clauses) that hover between present and past tense, skillfully tailored to communicate Sophy's slightly depressed tone of voice. An ambitious work, as startling in its originality as Johnson's award-winning Toning the Sweep (1993). (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1995

A new sitter charms away her young charge's anxiety in this brief, unpersuasive problem-solver from Johnson (Toning the Sweep, 1993, etc.). As soon as Sara waves goodbye to her mother, Miss Alice puts on her blue ``dancing shoes'' and turns on the radio. Later, out come brown walkers for a stroll outside, fuzzy slippers for a nap, and bare feet for sitting on the bedroom floor drawing pictures. That night, Sara dances by herself, wearing her own dancing shoes. Johnson's spare language doesn't convey much of the breadth or depth of Sara's feelings—''I danced a long time with Miss Alice. We got hungry and ate a snack...but I got sad.'' The illustrations don't always provide the needed elaboration; although Page—in his first book—sometimes captures a natural-looking gesture or expression, his figures (especially in their faces) are often unfinished or indistinct. Miss Alice has a fixed, anxious-to-please look throughout. Small details are absent or confusing (Why is Sara in a buttoned-up dress all day—even for her nap? Where is the TV in this preternaturally neat, impersonal house?) and the visual flow lurches at the end; Miss Alice vanishes in the turn of the page and Sara is last seen suspended against an abstract background. There's a good idea here, but it is so stripped down that readers are unlikely to find its comforting message. (Picture book. 4-7) Read full book review >
TONING THE SWEEP by Angela Johnson
Released: April 1, 1993

Johnson's spare, beautifully written first novel—a thematic extension of Tell Me a Story, Mama (1989)—portrays a crucial turning point for African-American women from three generations. Grandmother Ola has cancer; Emily and her mama go to the California desert to pack up her belongings and take her back to Cleveland so she can die in peace near her family. Ola and Emily have a special bond: for different reasons, both are mildly estranged from Mama; both love the arid land Ola has made her home since fleeing Alabama after her husband's tragic death in 1964. Latching onto a video camera, Emily starts recording the reminiscences of Ola's friends as a gift for her. In the process, she discovers the source of Mama's unhappiness, and, together, they find the proper send-off for Ola in the desert. Johnson leaves much to understatement, trusting readers to delve between the lines. Emily's narration is interrupted—by Mama, by Ola—in resonant testaments of love; such introspection gives the fleeting days an added poignancy. At the close, the laughter shared by these three and their friends seems to linger in the dry, still air. Place this brave and wonderful piece of storytelling with the best of YA fiction. (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >
JULIUS by Angela Johnson
by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Dav Pilkey
Released: March 1, 1993

The author of When I Am Old With You (1990) and other celebrations of loving companionship teams up with the mad colorist of When Cats Dream (1992) for a tale of a black family that finds itself saddled with a huge, exuberant pet. Maya has always wanted a horse or an older brother, but her traveling Grandaddy brings her an Alaskan pig instead (``Something that will teach you fun and sharing''). Like a teenager from hell, Julius romps through the house munching on junk food, dropping crumbs, listening to loud music, and staying up till the wee hours. He and Maya are inseparable; and as he teaches her how to dance to jazz records and eat peanut butter right from the jar, she firmly teaches him table manners and cleaner habits. Using ink, paint, fabric swatches, and even coffee spatters, Pilkey creates a riotous sequence in which Maya's happy face contrasts comically with her parents' glowers while her adored pink friend floats with bulbous grace. (Picture book. 4-7) Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 1992

As in Tell Me a Story, Mama (1989) and other books this team has created, the importance of family gets thematic pride of place here. Preparing to move from an urban apartment, a black family spends more time saying good-bye to friends, neighbors, and relatives (``We said good-bye to the cousins all day long'') than packing. In Soman's large, golden-brown watercolors, readers can follow the play of emotions in the faces of parents and children as they hug, kiss, shake hands, or just speak quietly to one another, until the narrator and his father, pregnant mother, and older sister sit smiling together in a room the movers have emptied, then wave one last good-bye from the street. A gently reassuring view of a common, and often traumatic, experience. (Picture book. 3-6) Read full book review >
ONE OF THREE by Angela Johnson
Released: Aug. 1, 1991

``I'm one of the three that looks just like our mama, smiles just like our daddy, and holds hands with my sisters....'' In another warm evocation of a loving black family, the author of Tell Me a Story, Mama (1989) depicts a little girl whose older sisters often include her—but not always; then it can be ``just Mama, Daddy, and me, it's a different kind of three, and that's fine too....'' Soman's watercolors glow with good humor and affection. (Picture book. 3-8) Read full book review >

Together, a new author and a new illustrator make an outstanding debut. In a bedtime dialogue between a six-or eight-year-old girl and her mother, memorable incidents in their family history are reviewed. The eager, well-loved child asks her mother to recount favorite events, but they are so familiar that she really tells them herself with only occasional comments from Mama: the time Mama got even with a mean neighbor and Grandmama made her apologize—but also gave her an extra sweet-roll; the time Mama and Aunt Jessie went to stay with Great-aunt Rosetta for a few months because their parents had to work; the time Grandmama cried at the airport when Mama moved away. Love and a strong sense of continuity shine through partings and reunions, suggesting that the qualities that make a family strong are passed from one generation to the next through such a rehearsal as this. In watercolors that glow with the story's warm affection, Soman depicts the many times and places in this black family's past, using details of costume and setting to distinguish it from the present. His light-dappled style is realistic, but not overdefined; he is especially gifted at conveying subtle slates of mind through facial expressions and postures. A wonderful book for sharing. Read full book review >