Books by Angela Shelf Medearis

SEVEN SPOOLS OF THREAD by Angela Shelf Medearis
Released: Nov. 1, 2000

Any family with seven sons must hear plenty of bickering, but the seven Ashanti brothers in this family quarrel from dawn to dusk and into the night. Their father leaves them a legacy in more than material terms, with the requirement that they must spin seven spools of thread (each in a different shade) into gold in only one day—with no arguing. Medearis has crafted an original story with the timeless tone of a traditional folktale, subtly incorporating the seven principles of Kwanzaa into her plot. The brothers learn to cooperate in both words and deeds, weaving their seven colors of silken thread into multicolored cloth so beautiful it is purchased for the king (with a bag of gold, of course). Demonstrating the Kwanzaa principle of cooperative economics, the brothers teach their whole village to weave the patterned fabric known as kente cloth. Minter's striking linoleum block-print illustrations complement the story perfectly, with the seven decidedly different brothers shown in silhouette against jewel-bright backgrounds full of intriguing details of African village life. The history and seven principles of Kwanzaa are clearly explained in the introduction; directions for making a simple loom from straws and weaving a cloth belt are included in an appendix. This added information as well as the satisfying story will make this beautifully designed book a valuable selection for elementary-school teachers and librarians. A fine choice for a Kwanzaa gift, and a first choice for most school and public-library collections. (Picture book. 6-10)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

This entry in the Rainbow Biography series tells the story of Ida B. Wells, born in 1862, who was the oldest of seven children, and took over the responsibility of her family at age 14, when her parents died of yellow fever. Later she took a teacher's examination and taught school for $25 a month. A watershed event, the lynching of her good friend Thomas Moss, changed the course of Wells's life. From that time on, she fought with her pen, telling African-Americans to ``leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.'' She moved North, devoting her life to journalism and serving on the executive committee of the NAACP when it was formed in 1909. Medearis (Haunts, 1996, etc.) uses original sources from Wells's diary and journal entries to tell this remarkable story of an early civil-rights activist. Facts and names come fast, without extensive context; this is not the author's best biography, but it perfectly illustrates the power of the written word to make changes in a society. (index, not seen, b&w photos, chronology, notes, further reading) (Biography. 7-10) Read full book review >
RUM-A-TUM-TUM by Angela Shelf Medearis
Released: April 15, 1997

As captivated by African-American street calls as Alan Schroeder was in Carolina Shout! (1995), Medearis (Haunts, 1996, etc.) offers readers an eye-filling, ear-filling tour of Market Street in New Orleans. "Okra, cucumbers,/squash and potatoes,/come and sample/my plump tomatoes," calls one vendor from the vegetable stand, and the mother of the girl who narrates "sniffs, squeezes, and pokes each pile." Bread, strawberries, shrimp, and apples are all for sale, but mixed into the business of the day are the "black-clad mourners" making their way down the street with a coffin, and the traveling band that blows "hot jazz notes." Ransome works in perfect concord with the text: Fruit glistens, horns shine, faces glow, while the architecture in the background firmly anchors the setting. Exhilarating. (Picture book. 5-9)Read full book review >
HAUNTS by Angela Shelf Medearis
Released: Dec. 15, 1996

Medearis (Treemonisha, 1995, etc.) makes careful additions to five goosebump-raising tales, which are all either set in rural Texas or have a Southern flavor: A widow's moldering husband rises again for one "Last Dance at the Dew Drop Inn"; with the help of a mysterious dog, Lilly rescues her brother Freeson from the weirdly compelling "Fiddler Man"; an encounter with a headless horseman leaves two sisters "Scared Silly"; and a drought-stricken small town gets more water than it bargains for from "The Rainmaker." In the final story a skeptical clergyman spends a terrifying night with a roomful of talking cats while "Waiting for Mr. Chester" to come down the chimney- -piecemeal. Hyman departs from her exacting style to illustrate each tale with a sweeping, less-controlled black-and-white scene; shadows look muddy, but the pop-eyed faces and theatrical gestures are suitably dramatic. Warn all but intrepid readers not to start on this collection after sundown. (Short stories. 10-12) Read full book review >
TOO MUCH TALK by Angela Shelf Medearis
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

A West African tale, carefully sourced, about a farmer whose yam and then dog talk to him. Terrified, he runs until he meets a fisherman who listens to the farmer's tale. `` `Oh,' said the fisherman, `that can't happen.' `Oh, yes it can,' the fish said to them.'' Terrified, the two of them run until they meet a weaver (whose cloth talks), a bather (the water talks), and the chief (his chair talks and ``he ran uphill and downhill and was never seen again''). The plot has all the poetic repetitions typical of folktales, but stripped down to the bare essentials, the minimalism becomes remarkable. Demonstrating exceptional timing, Medearis's narrative unwinds like a song with verses and refrains. On top of this, the deadpan comedy found in the contrast between the formal dialogue of the humans and the casual words of the yam, dog, cloth, water, and chair makes this some sort of miniature masterpiece. Vitale paints with oils on wood, using sweet, smoky colors. His flat, funny characters appear in exaggerated postures amid stylized landscapes with nominal perspective surrounded by patterned borders. Laugh with it or laugh at it—it's a great little book. (Picture book. 3+) Read full book review >
THE FREEDOM RIDDLE by Angela Shelf Medearis
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

Medearis (Skin Deep, p. 860, etc.) offers an upbeat retelling of a story that first appeared in William J. Faulkner's The Days When the Animals Talked, about a slave who wins his freedom by offering his master a riddle he can't solve. The riddle is an elaborate one: The text follows Jim for a year as incidents from daily life give him ideas for clues. In the meantime, readers glean a picture of life on a plantation as Medearis peppers her sure- footed narrative with a variety of inventive phrases and images. The large, heavy oil paintings have a subdued palette, featuring mainly Jim and others on the plantation; the different postures in which the characters are depicted contribute to the expressiveness of the narration, as if they were actors in a theatrical piece. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
TREEMONISHA by Angela Shelf Medearis
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

A wonderful prose retelling of Scott Joplin's opera, set in Arkansas in the 1880s, in three acts brimming with dancing, preaching, and hustling. Medearis (Too Much Talk, p. 1434, etc.) includes colorful dialogue and actual songs and rhymes from the opera. She gives the big numbers a flair and pitches the rich characterizations perfectly. That said, she narrates the libretto as a short story, pounding some theatrical moments into basic exposition—a minor criticism. The colored pencil and watercolor pictures—big and small, sometimes taking up a whole page, sometimes stuck in a corner, wherever there's room—are all detail and color. The large cast, in 19th-century garb and wearing exaggerated expressions, never lets readers forget this is an opera. Lively; the long text is a pleasure to read out loud. (Picture book. 7-11) Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1995

In a slim volume of 40 short poems, all but two written in the first person, Medearis speaks directly and unpretentiously to young people's everyday concerns: school life, appearance, family tensions, dating, peer pressure, the puzzle of one's future. The darkest poems are some of the strongest, e.g. ``My Mirror Lies to Me,'' on anorexia, and ``Chemical Cocoon,'' about drug dependence. There are jubilant pieces as well, e.g., ``Colors of the Race,'' which sings with self-esteem; there are also defiant ones like ``Black Barbie Doll,'' a response to the label ``too white.'' Pencil drawings in b&w appear on roughly every other spread. While the title, cover art, illustrations, and subject matter of many of the poems make clear that minority students are in the target audience, no teenager will feel excluded by the sentiments expressed. The accessibility of the plainspoken style coupled with the volume's topicality may engage those who normally avoid this genre. (Poetry. 10+) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 11, 1994

Children's book author Medear°s has bitten off more than she can chew in trying to cover Africa and the Caribbean as well as early and modern African-American cooking. Simple recipes are nothing special: almond-infused warm milk from Morocco is soothing, but hardly worth the hour necessary to prepare it, and an eggplant dip from Nigeria is piquant, although attempts to grind, as instructed, a teaspoon of sesame seeds and a single clove of garlic in a standard blender are bound to fail. The chapter on ``Slave Kitchens'' provides some of the most interesting fodder for thought with a recipe for fried squirrel. Modern African-American dishes are somewhat characterless in comparison. It is hard to discern any appropriate cultural roots in crab salad with feta dressing and fajitas filled with shellfish. A brief, tacked-on chapter supplies menus and a few dishes for holidays like Juneteenth (June 19, emancipation day in Texas) and Kwanzaa. There are a few cooking faux pas here that simply cannot be ignored: A recipe for black beans and rice calls for undrained canned beans, adding a hefty dose of sodium, and a recipe for Ethiopia's flat injera bread calls for Aunt Jemima's Deluxe Easy Pour Pancake Mix in place of the traditional grain teff; while this may be the way injera is commonly made today, it will strike some readers as a bad ethnic joke. Medear°s dots these pages with mostly banal quotes from well- known African-Americans like Booker T. Washington, Oprah Winfrey, and...herself. A multicultural mess. Read full book review >
OUR PEOPLE by Angela Shelf Medearis
Released: March 1, 1994

Another excursion through African-American history, lightly veiled as interaction between parent and child. ``Daddy says our people built the pyramids,'' confides the narrator, wishing—as she builds a precarious-looking structure of blocks—that she'd been there to ``help[ed] them with the plans.'' Similarly, she imagines exploring with Columbus, leading people to freedom like Sojourner Truth (as she pulls a wagonload of dolls), and farming out West (she rides on Daddy's back). The upbeat story ends with the father encouraging the child with possibilities for her own future. The little girl's identifying—in the past or future— with those who are competent to effect change is the strength of an otherwise predictable run-through of key figures and events. Bryant debuts with realistic watercolors; he uses inset vignettes with mixed success (some of his compositions are overbusy), but the subtlety with which he captures some of his characters' expressions is appealing. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
Released: March 31, 1992

A rollicking cowboy ballad tells the story of a stranger who the other cowboys suppose is a greenhorn: ``Such an educated fellow, his thoughts just came in herds;/ He astonished all the cowboys with jaw-breaking words.'' Thinking to show him up, they put him on the ``Zebra Dun,'' an unridable outlaw, but though ``We could see the tops of mountains under Dunny's every jump,/ ...the stranger seemed to grow there, just like a camel's hump.'' The lively watercolor illustrations depict an assortment of cowboys—African-American (notably, the stranger, whose striped trousers slyly suggest a reason for the manner of his hazing), Latino (including the boss), and white (the cook and a guitarist). An excellent note points out how common such mixes actually were, despite all-white media stereotypes. In an engaging final touch, the whole crew is seen happily reading the stranger's books. A nifty song, given a valid and intriguing new spin. Music included. (Music/Picture book. 5-10) Read full book review >
DANCING WITH THE INDIANS by Angela Shelf Medearis
Released: Oct. 15, 1991

Traveling with their parents in a horse-drawn wagon to pay their annual visit to the Oklahoma Seminoles, a boy and girl recall the origins of this family tradition: their grandfather, an escaped slave, was given refuge by the Seminoles and considered a blood brother. In musical, well-honed verse, Medearis summarizes the old story, then focuses on a long night of dancing—a rainbow dance with glorious ribbons, a fierce war dance that re-creates a heroic past, and finally, going on until dawn, the Indian Stomp Dance, which the visitors are invited to join. An author's note explains that the story is part of her own family history; the children here are her mother and uncle, but the custom continues to the present. In his first children's book, Byrd provides dramatically evocative scenes that vary from realistic to impressionistic. His figures can be well observed but are uneven in quality; still, firelight dancing isn't an easy subject, and he has tackled it with intelligence and imagination. A fine addition to the multicultural scene. (Picture book. 4-10) Read full book review >