Books by Larry Johnson

THE SECRET TO FREEDOM by Marcia Vaughan
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 30, 2001

Great Aunt Lucy recalls the time just before the Civil War when as slaves she and her older brother, Albert, helped others escape by using the patterns in quilts to send secret messages. Albert was a blacksmith who was loaned to other plantations. After one such trip, he brought home a sack of quilts, which, he explained, held secret codes—the "monkey wrench" signaled to gather tools for the trip, "tumbling blocks" that it's time to escape. When Albert gave the signal, ten-year-old Lucy would risk her life to help by hanging the appropriate quilt over the field fence for others to see. When Albert was badly beaten after being caught one night without a pass, he decided he had to leave, but couldn't take Lucy because her lame leg would slow them down. Lucy survives the Civil War, working as a laundress and volunteering as a teacher and always wondering about her brother. Many years later, a letter arrives from Albert; he has married, lives in Canada, and is coming to visit. Enclosed is the piece of quilt that Lucy had given him when he left. While the basic story is powerful and touching, the vagueness of the time period is problematic. Dramatic double-paged, impressionistic paintings lack details that would clear up the confusion since they illustrate neither period dress, furnishings, nor style. Due to the mature nature of the material and one particularly disturbing spread of Albert being whipped by the overseer, this is a book for older children. (glossary, afterword) (Picture book. 9-11)Read full book review >
SINGING WITH MOMMA LOU by Linda Jacobs Altman
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 1, 2001

Tamika decides to try to restore her grandmother's memory in this realistic story about a family dealing with Alzheimer's Disease. At first, Tamika resents having to visit Momma Lou in the nursing home every Sunday. One night after a particularly difficult visit, Tamika's father pulls out the family photo album. Cherished snapshots from Momma Lou's full life marching for civil-rights causes, getting married in traditional African dress, and taking care of a young Tamika remind Tamika of "the days of secrets and dreams, when Momma Lou was her best friend in all the world," and she realizes she owes it to Momma Lou to make the visits more meaningful. Tamika's efforts to reconnect Momma Lou with her past by bringing photos and mementos to the nursing home sometimes work and sometimes don't, reflecting the sad reality of the progression of Alzheimer's. A major triumph occurs when Momma Lou is shown a picture of herself in jail, and begins to sing "We Shall Overcome," just as she did on that long-ago day; but it is her last moment of lucidity. Eventually Momma Lou slips away, but not before her memories have taken root in Tamika's heart. Soft-focus, acrylic illustrations convey the dedication and warmth of the family; in particular, Tamika's facial expressions aptly express the progression of frustration, love, excitement, and nostalgia she feels as she comes to terms with Momma Lou's illness. This worthy source for any family dealing with the anguish of Alzheimer's provides assurance to children that their experience isn't unique as well as a blueprint for a proactive approach even young children can undertake. (author's note, list of Alzheimer's Disease organizations) (Picture book. 6-9)Read full book review >
GRANDDADDY'S GIFT by Margaree King Mitchell
CHILDREN'S
Released: Feb. 1, 1997

A sensitive effort from Mitchell (Uncle Jed's Barbershop, 1993), about a courageous man in the segregated South who steadfastly pursued a goal (in this case, the right to vote), creating a legacy of pride and hope for the young girl who tells his story. Although the language is simple and straightforward, readers will require some background to understand how Jim Crow laws effectively disenfranchised Southern blacks for nearly a century after the passage of the 15th Amendment. With robust paintings by Johnson, the book will be instructive for those—of every age—without a clear understanding of how dearly won are rights they may take for granted. (Picture book. 7-11) Read full book review >
TRAIN by Charles Temple
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 1, 1996

In his driving, rhythmic text, Temple (Cadillac, 1995) evokes all the huffing, puffing, swaying, clacking, rattling wonder of a long train ride—from daybreak departure to nighttime, when ``the seats go turning into beds.'' Johnson's loosely painted, full-bleed acrylics nicely capture the mood of the journey from every angle; sometimes he focuses on the passengers and interiors of the train, other times he views the train from the distant perspective of a man in jail or the cows in the field. Quietly, the book dispels stereotypes. The featured passengers are an African-American family, while the dining car porter is white. For story hour sharing or quiet read-alones. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE by Nikki Giovanni
CHILDREN'S
Released: Feb. 1, 1994

From the author's first book, Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968), a brief (68-word) poem describing summers spent with her grandparents in the mountainous country setting where she was born, presented with attractive illustrations reflecting the poem's sense of family love and community strength. Johnson makes a fine picture book debut with richly hued impressionistic double spread oil paintings, but—at least for those with limited budgets—the price seems high for the limited content. (Poetry/Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >