Books by Patricia C. McKissack

WHAT IS GIVEN FROM THE HEART by Patricia C. McKissack
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 8, 2019

"A sweet story, one of the legendary McKissack's last, enhanced by delectable art from a prodigious new talent. (Picture book. 4-10)"
A boy who has little learns that he can still give. Read full book review >
WHO WILL BELL THE CAT? by Patricia C. McKissack
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 10, 2018

"A lovely posthumous gift that will undoubtedly draw readers into the prolific author's body of work. (Picture book. 4-7)"
The mice in the barn have a cat problem and must rely on their own wits to solve it. Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 10, 2017

"A comprehensive treasury of memories, verbal art, and play. (notes, bibliography, index) (Folklore. 1-10)"
An ebullient collection of African-American playtime lore, traced to its sources. Read full book review >
OL' CLIP-CLOP by Patricia C. McKissack
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2013

"This splendid 'jump story' is not for the faint of heart, but readers who relish edge-of-the-seat suspense done impeccably will be well-satisfied. (Picture book. 6-10)"
Storyteller McKissack crafts a spine-tingling tale set during colonial times about a greedy man who just may get the scare of his life. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 2012

"History that's fun to read…and important. (authors' note, illustrator's note) (Historical fiction. 10 & up)"
On a train out of Denver in 1902, two old cowboys reminisce about the Old West. Read full book review >
NEVER FORGOTTEN by Patricia C. McKissack
Released: Oct. 11, 2011

"A totally absorbing poetic celebration of loss and redemption. (author's note) (Picture book/poetry. 7-12)"
A searing cycle of poems describes a father's grief after his son is taken from their home in Mali and enslaved in America. Read full book review >
ADVENTURE
Released: Feb. 1, 2011

The second book of the Clone Codes (Clone Codes, 2010) focuses on Houston Ye, the teen cyborg who helped the clone Leanna escape the government forces seeking her in fulfillment of its policy of discrimination against any deemed not completely human. Houston's life was saved by technology, but his nonhuman status resulted in abandonment by his family. Now he finds himself on a hijacked spaceship with Leanna and a boy genius heading for the Moon to look for the protection of his guardian, another cyborg, who had been a friend of his father. The Moon, away from the attention of the Federation, has become a place where Firsts (fully human), cyborgs and clones can get along. The Federation decides to clamp down further on cyborgs, triggering a wave of protests modeled on the Civil Rights movement. The McKissacks continue to successfully draw parallels between a futuristic world that tries to control those considered different and historic racial struggles. The characters are drawn without much complexity, but the worldbuilding is intriguing, there is plenty of action and ethnic diversity in a science-fiction tale is welcome. (Science fiction. 12 & up)Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 2010

It is the year 2170, and Leanna, daughter of a respected child psychologist, is a typical 13-year-old interested in friends and sports. She is enrolled in All-Virtual School, where she experiences such historical events as an escape with Harriet Tubman. This becomes real when her mother is arrested for activism on behalf of the clones who serve as slave labor for humans. Leanna follows her mother's order to flee the clutches of her mother's jailers. While on the run, a message reveals that her mother's interest in clones was more than academic: Leanna is herself a clone and in danger should that fact be discovered. With the help of others sympathetic to their cause, Leanna avoids detection while dealing with facts about her identity that send her reeling. Some of the parallels to American slavery and racism are obvious; others are clever, such as the depiction of a secondary character, Houston, a closeted cyborg (another oppressed minority) who happens to be three-fifths human. This is fast-paced adventure with a provocative exploration of civil rights and identity. (Science fiction. 12 & up)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 28, 2008

McKissack's series of poems tells the story of and honors the history of the women quilters of Gee's Bend, Ala. For years, these emancipated former slaves existed out of the mainstream before being "discovered" and celebrated for preserving a unique way of life. The women's quilts pay tribute to their lives' major events, such as registering to vote and marching with Martin Luther King Jr., and the process of quilting serves as a critical way to pass on to their children songs and family stories, and, of course, how to quilt. Baby Girl is at the center of the book, growing from a little one who plays on a quilt under the ladies' quilting frame to a girl who pieces together her own story and learns how to quilt it. Cabrera's vibrant paintings incorporate collage elements in both somber and vibrant colors that reflect struggles for freedom along with the collaborative warmth of quilting parties. An outstanding way to introduce aspects of African-American history and explore the power of community. (Picture book/poetry. 6-12)Read full book review >
THE ALL-I’LL-EVER-WANT CHRISTMAS DOLL by Patricia C. McKissack
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 25, 2007

McKissack and Pinkney join forces for their third collaborative effort in this story of three sisters who have to share one doll for Christmas during the Depression. The middle sister, Nella, writes to Santa to ask for a Baby Betty doll, even though she knows there isn't much chance of receiving her due to her family's modest circumstances. On Christmas morning, the girls each receive a little bag of treats, but there is only one doll for all of them, leading to bickering and arguments. The wise parents tell their daughters to sort it out for themselves, and they do: Nella claims the doll as her own, and the other sisters ignore her and continue to play together. Nella finds that her sisters are more fun to play with than a silent doll, so she decides to share Baby Betty. The longer story is full of humorous dialogue and scenes of realistic family life showing the close bonds within the family. Pinkney's watercolor illustrations are masterful, as always, capturing the emotions on the girls' faces and filling in details of the family's Depression-era world. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
A SONG FOR HARLEM by Patricia C. McKissack
CHILDREN'S
Released: Aug. 1, 2007

McKissack's third offering in her Scraps of Time historical fiction for new readers examines the life of fictional Lilly Belle Turner in 1928 at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Told by Lilly Belle's niece, Gee, the grandmother with the attic full of historical family artifacts, McKissack's story closely follows the structure of the earlier entries. This time, 12-year-old Lilly Belle wins a writing contest, leaves her family in Smyrna, Tenn. and joins her Aunt Odessa in Harlem for a class with Zora Neale Hurston in the famed salon, the Dark Tower, run by A'Lelia Walker. One of the classmates plagiarizes a story from The Crisis magazine and Lilly Belle is faced with a crisis of her own. The story line is simply an excuse to namedrop the various historical highlights of the Harlem Renaissance: Countee Cullen, W.E.B. Du Bois, the Savoy, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Marcus Garvey. But for newcomers to the period, this will serve as a taste of this rich period in American history. (Fiction. 6-9)Read full book review >
A FRIENDSHIP FOR TODAY by Patricia C. McKissack
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 2007

The title may lead readers to expect a contemporary tale; instead, McKissack chronicles the events of 1954 and 1955, a tumultuous time in the life of 12-year-old Rosemary Patterson. After a care-free summer, Rosemary begins sixth grade in an integrated school, one of only a few African-American students. At home she copes with the disintegration of her parents' marriage and nurses an injured cat back to life. Using first-person narration, McKissack creates a convincing portrait of a young girl's experiences. Young readers may find Rosemary's narration stilted at times, but McKissack's style clearly evokes the more formal world of the 1950s. Ironically, the friendship referred to in the title is the least interesting aspect of the narrative. Rosemary is such a strong character that readers won't be surprised when previously prejudiced Grace Hamilton recognizes her worth. This simply told story will leave readers pondering our progress—or lack thereof—in race relations over the past 50 years. (Fiction. 9-12)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Aug. 22, 2006

The author of The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural (1992), illustrated by Brian Pinkney, mines a lighter vein with nine original tales that hark back to yarns from her Tennessee childhood. Opening with reminiscent scene-setters, all feature human "slicksters and tricksters" able to get what they want with charm, like con man Pete Bruce—who scores a generous portion of coconut cream pie from an undeceived cook—or despite bad reputations end up performing some worthy deed, as does chauffeur Lincoln Murphy, who excavates a prematurely buried employer. Other tales feature appearances from Frank and Jesse James, helping to rid sharecroppers of a white predator; from Ralph, king of the ghosts; and from the Devil himself, who makes a young musician the same so-tempting offer once made to bluesman Robert Johnson at a certain crossroads. Capped by blues harmonica player Cake Norris's two-part odyssey up and down the ladder to Heaven, these tales all lend themselves to telling or reading aloud, and carry the common theme that even the worst rascals have saving graces. (author's introduction) (Short stories. 10-12)Read full book review >
AWAY WEST by Patricia C. McKissack
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 1, 2006

It's 1879 and 13-year-old Everett Turner is stowing away on a supply boat to St. Louis. He has left his farmer brother Gus to work their exhausted land in Tennessee and is heading west to the new settlements in Kansas, hoping to find his way out of the fields of Pearl, Tenn. and into the cavalry with his older brother. Holding his dead father's Medal of Valor as a talisman, Everett joins the wave of pioneers with little more than the clothes he's wearing. Using his wits and his ability to read, Everett earns a spot with Benjamin Singleton's group and starts his new life in Kansas. Important and sometimes neglected historical details are here: Buffalo soldiers, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the slave-built Eads Bridge and the settlement of Nicodemus, Kan. In short, readable chapters, complete with cliffhanger endings, McKissack brings another slice of history to life for new readers. A must for young history buffs. (timeline) (Fiction. 8-12)Read full book review >
WHERE CROCODILES HAVE WINGS by Patricia C. McKissack
ANIMALS
Released: Sept. 15, 2005

Bold and imaginative collage illustrations swirl and swoop against neon-bright backgrounds in this exploration of a nonsensical world "where surprises grow on trees." Barner's illustrations are a delightful cacophony of brilliant colors and flowing shapes outlined in thick, black strokes, with sprinkles of stars and flowers to underscore the flavor of fantasy. In a rollicking, rhyming text (that occasionally doesn't scan), McKissack introduces a cast of happy animals engaging in wildly inventive activities (bears laying eggs, zebras playing hockey) or possessing extraordinary characteristics (a fuchsia fox in argyle socks, a rat with four eyes). As a connecting device, a little boy in plaid pajamas bounces in and out of the illustrations, landing in bed at the final verse that indicates that such fantastical creatures can be found in the pages of favorite books. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
ABBY TAKES A STAND by Patricia C. McKissack
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 1, 2005

Maggie Rae and her cousins visit their grandmother's attic to find scraps of time, remembrances from her family's past. A menu from a Nashville restaurant provides the link to 1960 with its lunch-counter sit-ins and store boycotts. Grandmother (Abby) was ten years old that year and very much a part of those events. She experienced the ugliness of segregation, attended meetings, passed out flyers, provided food for the participants and witnessed both defeats and victories. Abby is an engaging character whose sharp observations provide emotional connections and a sense of time and place. McKissack also carefully sets the stage by using the attic device, gently moving the reader from present to past and back again. By personalizing events, historical fiction can bring the past alive for children, whose concept of time is unformed. McKissack succeeds admirably. An excellent introduction to a promising new series. (Historical fiction. 8-12)Read full book review >
PRECIOUS AND THE BOO HAG by Patricia C. McKissack
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 2005

A quick-witted child confronts a scary character (here somewhat toned down) from Gullah folklore in this largely original tale. Left alone to nurse a stomachache while the rest of her family works the fields, young Precious isn't sure whether to take seriously her brother's warning about letting the evil, shapeshifting Boo Hag into the house—until the creature herself shows up, flashing "eyes of burning cinder and hair that shot out like lightning." Brooker underscores the story's rustic flavor by surrounding most of her terrific paint and collage scenes with a peeling board frame and gives pigtailed Precious a winningly scared but resolute look. After repeatedly seeing through a series of flawed disguises (the Boo Hag being powerful, but none too bright), Precious drifts off to sleep in triumph, supposing—wrongly, as a nape-prickling final scene reveals—that the Hag has given up. Fine fare for Halloween, or general under-the-covers reading. (Picture book. 6-8)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 14, 2004

Working with an attorney, McKissack focuses on significant Supreme Court decisions in this revealing study of the US Constitution's long, evolving role as an instrument for the promotion of civil and human rights. In topical, but also generally chronological, chapters, the authors move from the Cherokee Removal to the growth of "apartheid" after the Civil War, through the creation of "concentration camps" for Japanese-Americans in WWII, to controversies over voting rights, and, more recently, rights of gay, lesbian, and disabled people. Pointing out several instances in which the Court has issued contradictory judgments—sometimes only a few years apart—or worked to narrow individual rights rather than broaden them, the authors present a compelling mix of analyses and quoted passages from judicial opinions to demonstrate that the Constitution and the Court are both flexible entities, sometimes ahead of the curve of change, sometimes behind. Current enough to include the rejection in 2003 of the Texas sodomy law, illustrated with a mix of telling photos, documents, and political cartoons, this will give serious students of this country's legal foundations plenty of food for thought. (documents, reading lists, index) (Nonfiction. 11-15)Read full book review >
LU AND THE SWAMP GHOST by James Carville
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2004

Carville—yes, that one—retells a tale learned from his Louisiana mother, about her own Depression-era childhood. "As curious as a Louisiana judge" since the time she learned to talk, little Lu heads into the swamp one day and encounters a mud-covered creature she takes for a swamp ghost. Lu tricks it into letting her escape, but seeing that it displays a decidedly un-ghostlike appetite for leftovers and for company, Lu recalls her Mama's philosophy that "you're never poor if you have a loving family and one good friend." She fearlessly returns to offer it a hamper, a home, and, once a rainstorm washes off the mud to reveal the "ghost's" true nature, a hand. Placing typically bulb-headed, frizzy-haired figures in a wonderfully gloppy bayou setting, Catrow ably captures Lu's big personality, as well as the story's warmth and humor. Here's hoping Carville's momma told him some more stories for Catrow to illustrate. (author's note) (Picture book. 6-8)Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Jan. 1, 2004

The McKissacks tell the story of the first African-Americans in America in an addition to the Milestone Books series. Unfortunately, they take a straightforward story and make it confusing. They try to let young readers know that some of the black settlers were actually indentured servants, capable of earning freedom and owning property and slaves themselves. The most interesting story is of one Anthony Johnson, a servant who earns his freedom, marries, owns land, and eventually wins a lawsuit that returns his escaped black "servant" to him. Investigation into the Web sites provided by the authors makes it clear that Johnson owned a slave, not a "servant." At times, the authors awkwardly address the reader directly—on the subject of slavery, for instance: "Reading about it too can be equally as stressful." Or "remember, slaves were not slaves simply because they were Africans." In other places, the vocabulary is too challenging for the intended audience. There are many stories in this volume that would make interesting history for the young reader; too bad they are sloppily combined into one choppy offering. (timeline, Web sites) (Nonfiction. 7-10)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Feb. 1, 2003

The McKissacks (Miami Sees It Through, not reviewed, etc.) have written a much-needed overview of how slavery came to an end. Slavery in the US did not end on one officially recognized day, but gradually, at different times for different people. The Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on January 1, 1863, only ended slavery in the Confederate states, thus could not be enforced, freeing no one and leaving close to a million people enslaved in the Border States. Yet, blacks, abolitionists, and politicians such as Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner cheered the document as "a promise of things to come." It included a clause that opened the army to African-Americans, who could now fight for their own liberation, a cause championed by Frederick Douglass. The Union army had become an army of liberation, and eventually black soldiers accounted for ten percent of the Union army and navy. December 18, 1865, was the true Day of Jubilee, the day the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery forever. The text effectively explains the political issues from the Missouri Compromise of 1820 through the Civil War and the Reconstruction era, Lincoln's evolution into "The Great Emancipator," the role played by Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists, and key events of the war itself. Excellent use is made of primary sources: slave narratives, diaries, and autobiographies, newspapers, documents, and archival photographs. Sidebars, song lyrics, and the inclusion of many players—major and minor—add to the nicely designed volume. Unfortunately, occasional small errors and awkward writing mar an otherwise fine offering, as do the lack of a map and the inclusion of a bibliography with few resources for young readers. Still: an important work and an essential purchase. (introduction, time line, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 9-13)Read full book review >
TIPPY LEMMEY by Patricia C. McKissack
ANIMALS
Released: Jan. 1, 2003

The time is 1951, the place is small-town Tennessee, and the country is at war with Korea. But seven-year-old Leandra and her friends have a war of their own: a dog is terrorizing them. Tippy Lemmey, the dog with a first and last name, barks and chases and generally makes Leandra, Paul, and Jeannie's lives very difficult. In this new addition to the Ready-for-Chapters series, McKissack tells the fast-paced story of friendship and acceptance. Leandra's father loves her "as much as heaven will allow" and both parents are solid and caring. Her father straddles that fine line between listening to his frightened daughter and allowing her to solve her own problems. Turns out the Lemmeys are raising Tippy Lemmey because the real owner, their son, is serving in the army in Korea. When Tippy Lemmey is stolen by dognappers intent on selling stolen dogs, the children are faced with a dilemma. On one hand, Tippy has made their lives difficult. On the other, their new friends, the Lemmeys, love their beloved son's dog. The children come to the dog's rescue and the dog comes to their rescue as well. The familiar situations and exciting plot will keep the pages turning, but the characters will stay with the new reader long after the story is put away. Short chapters, frequent pencil illustrations, generous font and white space are all hallmarks of a book for new chapter book readers, and this one is perfect on all counts. Best of breed. (Fiction. 7-10)Read full book review >
GOIN’ SOMEPLACE SPECIAL by Patricia C. McKissack
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2001

In a story that will endear itself to children's librarians and, for that matter, all library lovers, 'Tricia Ann begs her grandmother to be allowed to go alone to Someplace Special. Mama Frances acquiesces, sending her off with instructions: " ‘And no matter what, hold yo' head up and act like you b'long to somebody.' " 'Tricia Ann's special place is not revealed until the end, but on the way there, the humiliating racism she encounters on the city bus, in the park, and in a downtown hotel almost causes her to give up. " ‘Getting to Someplace Special isn't worth it,' she sobbed." When she recalls her grandmother's words: " ‘You are somebody, a human being—no better, no worse than anybody else in this world,' " she regains the determination to continue her journey, in spite of blatant segregation and harsh Jim Crow laws. " Public Library: All Are Welcome" reads the sign above the front door of Someplace Special; Mama Frances calls it "a doorway to freedom." Every plot element contributes to the theme, leaving McKissack's autobiographical work open to charges of didacticism. But no one can argue with its main themes: segregation is bad, learning and libraries are good. Pinkney's trademark watercolors teem with realistically drawn people, lush city scenes, and a spunky main character whose turquoise dress, enlivened with yellow flowers and trim, jumps out of every picture. A lengthy author's endnote fills in the background for adults on McKissack's childhood experiences with the Nashville Public Library. This library quietly integrated all of its facilities in the late 1950s, and provided her with the story's inspiration. A natural for group sharing; leave plenty of time for the questions and discussion that are sure to follow. (Picture book. 5-9)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2000

This remarkable book tells the true story of a courageous young princess who grew to be a military leader and hero. Set in 16th-century Congo and enriched with vivid descriptions of the jungle, the story unfolds through the journal writings of Nzingha, who is 13 and about to be chosen for marriage. Nzingha yearns for the attention of her father, the leader of the Mbundu people, and fervently wishes to join him on a hunt. Nzingha is chastised for her impetuous and spirited ways, but ultimately earns her father's praise. The defining factor of their lives, however, is the constant encroachment of their enemy, the Portuguese. As her father's faith in her grows, Nzingha is entrusted to negotiate with the Portuguese Governor, who offers peace if her people will supply slaves to the Portuguese. She discovers that these slaves are shipped to Brazil, where they are worked often to death. When Nzingha decides to advise her father against this bargain, she is kidnapped. Folks are not what they seem through the twists and exciting turns the story suddenly takes. The journal ends with Nzingha's safe return and marriage, but the epilogue goes on to give a synopsis of her lifelong fight to save her people from slavery and domination. With photos, woodcuts, and maps the reader is able to get a very accurate picture of this leader, who is still honored in present day Angola and Brazil. McKissack (Color Me Dark, p. 637, etc.) has written a stunning and thoroughly researched addition to the Royal Diaries series. (epilogue, historical note, family tree, photos, maps, pronunciation guide, glossary) (Historical fiction. 8-14)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 2000

In this new addition to the Dear America series, life in 1919 is peaceful and happy for Nellie Lee Love and her family in the little town of Bradford Corners, Tennessee. Not much happens; about the only excitement is the occasional letter from Nellie's Uncle Pace, still a soldier in France. The arrival each month of the NAACP magazine, The Crisis, is the only communication southern blacks have with the larger black community, and Daddy Love faithfully picks it up at his barbershop, reading it cover to cover. Then one day, the town's sheriff confiscates the shop's copies of The Crisis, and warns the men there that anyone belonging to the NAACP is asking for trouble from the Ku Klux Klan. A wire comes announcing that Uncle Pace is coming home. But when he does, he's been badly injured. As the sheriff tells it, he got drunk and fell asleep on the railroad tracks, where he was hit by a train. Everyone knows that Pace did not drink at all. He dies, and Daddy, realizing that this suspicious death has probably been the work of the Klan, decides to protect his family by moving them to Chicago. Here he hopes to set up a new undertaking business. Life in the city is far different for the Love girls from what they thought it would be. They must adapt to crowded apartment living, new neighbors, a tough new school, and making new friends, none of which is easy. But these discomforts are nothing to compare with the race riot that occurs that summer. The Loves get through it unscathed, but with the realization that they did not leave the problems of racism behind when they left Tennessee. It is this knowledge that gives Nellie and the rest of the Loves the impetus to become actively involved in the fight against prejudice and to begin the long march to full equality as Americans. It's an inspiring story, and one that brings to life the great black migration of that era from the south to the cities of the north. This part of American history is too often glossed over in textbooks, but must be understood in the context of modern race relations. (Fiction. 11-14)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1999

From the McKissacks (Young, Black, and Determined, 1998, etc.), a well-written, historical account of African-Americans who sailed on whaling ships off the East Coast between 1730 and 1880. The whaling industry provided great opportunities for free black seaman (and runaway slaves), many of whom could not find jobs elsewhere. The McKissacks note that during the "golden age" of whaling in the early 19th century, African-Americans comprised one-quarter of the crews; after the Civil War, their ranks swelled to half of all whalers. Not only does this book describe the whaling industry, it provides original maritime documents and historical black-and-white photographs from the Mystic Seaport Museum and the Kendall, New Bedford, Nantucket, and Martha's Vineyard whaling museums. Another thread of this fascinating history is the story of the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad for the Nantucket and New Bedford whalers. Beyond an overview, readers also meet some individuals, such as Lewis Temple, who developed the "toggle" harpoon design with barbs that stuck into the whale's body and wouldn't pull out easily, and John Mashow, who designed whale ships, including the Nimrod. The McKissacks describe an exciting period of maritime history, and celebrate an industry that chose workers on the basis of their skills, and not their skin. (index, not seen, b&w photos, appendix, chronology, bibliography). (Nonfiction. 8-13) Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Feb. 15, 1998

A playwright who is well known to readers through A Raisin in the Sun is given fair tribute by the McKissacks (Rebels Against Slavery, 1996, etc.), who also provide a window into the times in which Hansberry lived. Born in 1930, the fourth child of a prosperous family living on Chicago's South Side, Hansberry played childhood games and reported mixed views about her role as baby of the family. The McKissacks make clear, however, that from Hansberry's earliest days, her parents were raising her to "advance the cause of African-American equality through intelligent and articulate leadership." She grew up "listening to NAACP lawyers planning legal strategies in her living room"; surrounded by influential adults, she learned to express herself, seeking comfort in the aftermath of the bombing of Pearl Harbor by writing about "clouds, flowers, and music." After college graduation and marriage to Robert Nemiroff, she took up residence in Greenwich Village, New York City, where a windfall from her songwriter-husband's efforts allowed her to concentrate on her writing. Her death at age 34 comes through as a decisive loss to the American theatre; the authors cull from her short, high-impact life a thorough, very readable, work. (b&w photos, chronology, bibliography, index) (Biography. 10-13) Read full book review >
MA DEAR'S APRONS by Patricia C. McKissack
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 1997

McKissack's story looks at a week in the life of a turn-of- the-century African-American boy and his mother. David Earl identifies the days of the week by the color of Ma Dear's apron: Among them, Monday's is blue, with a long pocket harboring clothespins for her ironing work; a cheerful pink one for visiting the sick and shut-in on Thursday; Saturday's apron is flowered, signaling the day she sells pies at the railroad station. Sunday, blessedly, is apron-free, a ``no-work day,'' David Earl reminds her. With the aid of Cooper's paintings, McKissack gives real bite to the life of domestic workers 100 years back. This isn't a candy- coated mother-son relationship—Ma Dear is just as quick to tell David Earl ``no more buts, and stop whining,'' as she is to bestow a hug. But there's love here, cast over David Earl's life with the same uncompromising grace Ma Dear brings to all things in their lives. (Picture book. 3-9) Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 1996

Stories of African-Americans, some slaves and some free, who fought against slavery both in the US and the Caribbean, including Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Toussaint Louverture, and Denmark Vesey. Many of their stories have been told before, but the McKissacks (Red-Tail Angels, p. 1637, etc.) perform the important service of bringing them together in one volume. The book highlights that slaves were not—as some myths hold—passive sufferers awaiting freedom wrought by white abolitionists; many fought their oppressors with every available means, through minor inconveniences and full-scale revolts, taking leading roles in the abolition movement. The writing here is occasionally awkward- -readers may have difficulty distinguishing among facts, opinions, and rationalization—but these are gripping tales, in a solid volume about the slavery era. (b&w photos, not seen, chronology, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 8-14) Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Dec. 1, 1995

The powerful, inspirational story of the only African-American contingent of pilots to fly in WW II, nicknamed the Red-Tail Angels for the markings on their aircraft. This full-scale history of the Tuskegee Airmen is meticulously researched and detailed, vivid with quotes from participants and documents of the times, and extensively illustrated with black-and-white period photos. The McKissacks (Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters, 1994, etc.) provide a thoughtful, balanced look at segregation and discrimination in the US military dating from the Revolutionary War through WW II, using primary sources, court records, newspaper accounts, and written policies of the period. They also introduce other African-American aviators from the earliest days of flight, including Besse Coleman and Willa Brown. A fascinating and little- exposed area of US history. (glossary, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 12+) Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 1994

It's Christmas 1859 on a Virginia plantation. The family in the Big House and the slaves in the Quarters prepare for their celebrations. It is a happy time for everyone. Families are united. Feast are prepared. Singing and dancing are seen everywhere. The McKissacks (The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay, 1994, etc.) have written a strangely romantic view of a pre-emancipation Christmas. Not that there isn't talk of freedom among the slaves, and of uprising among the whites; it's just not clear why these slaves are unhappy. They are obviously poorer than their masters, but, except for a New Year's Day separation of black family members, plantation life doesn't seem at all bad. Thompson's glowing pictures, depicting well-dressed, healthy slaves and their masters celebrating together do nothing to dispel this impression. Perhaps if the McKissacks had shown the contrast between Christmas and the rest of the year more clearly, rather than assuming that their readers would all understand the evils of slavery, their book might have been more successful. It's tricky to reclaim traditions from an unhappy past. The line between glorifying aspects of slave culture and seeming to ignore the brute evil of slavery is thin. Unfortunately, the McKissacks have stepped over. (Historical fiction/Picture book. 8-13) Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 1994

Calling on both contemporary travelers' accounts and songs of the griots, the McKissacks reconstruct the history of three West African empires, each of which flourished in turn, only to be nearly buried by time and scholarly prejudice. Supported by trade in gold, salt, and, later, slaves, all three enjoyed long stretches of prosperity and peace between the 6th and 18th centuries AD, practicing religious toleration and giving women enough freedom to shock visiting Muslims. Mansa Kankan Musa I of Mali (d. 1332) ``governed an empire as large as all of Europe, second in size only to the territory at the time ruled by Genghis Khan in Asia.'' Ironically, and typically, the very location of Musa's capital is disputed today. The McKissacks shed light on the area's enduring social structures and family customs as well as its political history; they present different sides of controversies, sometimes supporting one of them (e.g., the contention that an African expedition crossed the Atlantic during Musa's reign). A final chapter, about two 19th-century slaves from West Africa, one of whom eventually returned to his homeland, probably belongs in another book, but it does help to narrow the gap between today's young readers and this glorious, obscured era in African history. Timeline; endnotes; substantial bibliography. Maps and index not seen. (Nonfiction. 11-15) Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Nov. 1, 1992

Presenting the dramatic life of one of slavery's staunchest opponents, the McKissacks illuminate the most important issues of 19th-century American politics. Born a slave in upstate New York, Belle Hardenburgh struggled to survive, to create and hold together a family, and to be free. Her children grown, she answered a spiritual call to preach against slavery, using her own experiences to win over hostile audiences and choosing a new name, Sojourner Truth, to reflect her commitment. Many other leading lights joined her campaigns for the welfare of African- Americans and women. In describing the effects of her ministry, the authors clearly convey her differences of opinion with other abolitionists and fairly depict other important actors in her life—including her former master, who actually became an abolitionist. Though they don't document the thoughts and feelings they attribute to Sojourner Truth (they appear to be drawn from other biographies), these emotions and ideas do ring true. A valuable contribution, well balanced and broad-minded. Photos and historical reproductions; bibliography; index. (Biography. 9-12) Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 1992

McKissack invites readers to gather in the ``dark-thirty''- -the eerie half hour when dusk darkens to night—for ten shivery tales inspired by African-American folklore and history. The historical links are especially potent: in the ``The Legend of Pin Oak,'' a free mulatto and his family escape re-enslavement by leaping from a cliff; in ``We Organized''—written in free verse and based on an actual narrative—a cruel owner is forced by magic to free his slaves. An African-American lynched by the KKK, and another left by a white bus-driver to freeze to death, return to haunt their tormentors; when a dying Pullman porter hears ``The 11:59,'' he knows it's time to go. Each tale is told in a simple, lucid style, embellished by a few deftly inserted macabre details and by one of Pinkney's dramatic, swirling scratchboard illustrations. A fine collection that teaches as it entertains. (Fiction. 10-13) Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY
Released: July 1, 1992

One of seven new entries, all by the McKissacks, in the ``Great African Americans'' series. The text here is condensed almost to outline form and delivered in short, easily read but often choppy sentences. Still, the McKissacks are reliable researchers who manage to pack a substantial amount of information into their brief account, deftly setting this 19th- century entrepreneur in the society of her time and providing all the proper accoutrements of nonfiction, including historical photos to supplement Bryant's serviceable drawings. Workmanlike and sure to be useful. Glossary; index. (Biography. 7-12) Read full book review >
A MILLION FISH...MORE OR LESS by Patricia C. McKissack
CHILDREN'S
Released: Feb. 10, 1992

Out fishing on the Bayou Clapateaux, young Hugh Thomas listens with delight when Papa-Daddy and Elder Abbajonto happen by to tell him a tall tale concerning a 500-pound turkey, a Spanish conquistador's lantern that's still burning, and ``the longest, meanest cottonmouth I ever did see.'' After they leave, Hugh Thomas catches just three small fish—and then imagines an even taller tale to tell the men: he catches a million fish, but the crocodiles demand half, and he's able to keep only half of the remainder by winning a jumprope contest with some piratical raccoons on his way home. Most of the rest disappear while he's talking to his friend Miss Challie Pearl: Did her cat get them? Still, he has those first three fish, just enough for supper. Though it doesn't have quite the enchantment of the author's Flossie and the Fox (1986), this lively, well-cadenced tale makes a good African-American counterpart to Seuss's classic And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. In her picture book debut, Schutzer provides freely rendered oil paintings with bold strokes of vibrant color that are especially effective at a distance—fine for groups. (Picture book. 5-10) Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY
Released: April 1, 1991

Wells-Barnett (1862-1931) was a journalist whose lifelong fight against discrimination began at age 16. A founder of the N.A.A.C.P., she was most effective in speaking and writing against the horror and injustice of lynching. Her story is outlined here in simple yet lively prose. Like the others in the new ``Great African Americans'' series (Ralph J. Bunche; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Marian Anderson), this serves as an introduction, the didactic feel exacerbated by boldfacing terms defined in a glossary and by the utilitarian line drawings that, with b&w photos, appear as illustrations. These will be more effective in the classroom than as additions to juvenile collections. No bibliography, sources, or index. (Biography. 7-9) Read full book review >