Books by Vera B. Williams

HOME AT LAST by Vera B. Williams
Released: Sept. 13, 2016

"A book to welcome into all kinds of homes. (Picture book. 4-8)"
Williams' heartfelt text, published posthumously, supports Raschka's expressive illustrations to tell the story of a child adopted by two dads. Read full book review >
A CHAIR FOR ALWAYS by Vera B. Williams
Released: May 1, 2009

Yes, good things do come to those who wait! It's been more than 25 years since A Chair for My Mother was published and won a 1983 Caldecott Honor. Now Rosa and the chair return. Two previous books about Rosa, Something Special for Me (1983) and Music, Music for Everyone (1984), follow the first but focus on her choosing a special birthday present and joining a band to earn money to help her mom when her grandmother is sick. In this companion story, Rosa waits for the birth of her baby cousin, who is being delivered at home by a midwife. The ingenuous text captures Rosa's excitement as she sits in her mother's chair and imagines Baby filling out her combo. After Baby Benji arrives, Grandma and Mama both suggest replacing the old chair, but Rosa demonstrates the staunch conservatism of the very young—"Don't you even care about history?"—and the role of the chair in this close family circle happily continues. As the narrative weaves all the stories together, Williams's inimitable gouache illustrations personalize the family members in this very satisfying tale. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 2001

Amber and Essie are two loving sisters living in a city apartment with their hardworking but poor mother. In a series of unpunctuated poems, Williams (Lucky Song, 1997, etc.) creates lively vignettes that capture their relationship and their everyday lives. The girls are defined clearly in the opening lines: "Amber could write her name in script / Essie taught her / But Essie could read hard library books." Essie takes care of Amber and comforts her when she is hungry or lonely. Amber takes the lead when they have to ask for credit at the local store. The only question Essie hates is "Where is Daddy?" The unexpected answer is that Daddy is in jail, taken from the apartment by the police for forging a check after he lost his job. The poems, illustrated by black pencil sketches, describe afternoons with babysitters; the new girl upstairs; catching sight of mother's unhappiness when she thinks they are asleep; the occasional fights; the time Essie cut off Amber's braids; and finally, the happy day that Daddy comes home. Two sections of full-color pencil illustrations add surprise and detail to the text. The opener, "Introducing Amber and Essie 4 Portraits," shows the girls from front and back, giving the reader a delightfully well-rounded portrait of each. The closing section, "Amber and Essie: An Album," adds additional action and color to some of the incidents. Poems and illustrations provide a portrait of close sisterly relationship that intimately and lovingly draws the reader into the joys and sadness of their lives. A wonderful story, brilliantly told. (Fiction. 8-11)Read full book review >
LUCKY SONG by Vera B. Williams
Released: Sept. 1, 1997

Lucky Erie—what she wants, she gets. "Now this little Evie wanted to do something, so she got ready. She wanted something new to wear, and on the hook she found it." When Evie wants to fly a kite, the wind takes it. When she wants supper, her grandma has it ready, and when she wants a song, her father sings it—the text of the book itself, an abstract ode to contentment. Evie appears to be about four, and in the last scene, points the way to readers: "If you want to hear that song again, go back to the beginning." The comforts and joys of someone her age are well understood by Williams (Scooter, 1993, etc.), and the pictures, putting Evie center stage, emphasize the importance of the child in her benign and homey surroundings. Supporting her independence, though, are family members who one by one contribute to her activities. Intense colors and exuberant poses compensate for the sometimes unfinished look of the art—Evie's hair changes, and her grandfather is a funny, balding child/man. The overall effect is as lively and spontaneous as a child's perfect day—and that makes this a very lucky song for readers. (Picture book. 3-5)Read full book review >
SCOOTER by Vera B. Williams
Released: Oct. 1, 1993

In a narrative akin, in its liveliness and immediacy, to Williams's Stringbean's Trip to the Shining Sea (1988), Elana Rose Rosen describes her first "2 months + 1 week or 9 weeks + 6 days or...5,961,600 seconds" in Melon Hill, an urban complex where she and her mom share one-room apartment 8E. From the first day ("I don't know any of those kids...I'm not moping") to the Labor Day celebration when Elana and the kids she's gotten to know—plus her best friend/cousin, visiting from Toronto—shine in their individual ways, Williams builds a sense of a particular community with every casual-seeming detail. Many of these relate to little Petey, who has selfish, inept parents and has never spoken until he whispers an important message to Elana; to old Mrs. Greiner ("the Whiner"), who turns out to be lovable as well as capable; and to Elana's hard-working mom, who goes to school and holds down a job. The rough marginal illustrations, while credibly childlike, deftly capture both character and action; with creative dexterity, Williams also varies the format with lists, charts ("Diagram of the Zig Zag Day" of trials and triumphs), healthful recipes (a soup from leftovers could be adapted to any refrigerator's contents), and succinct themes built on initials from chapter titles ("Petey": "Petey doesn't/Ever/Talk/Even when he wants to—/Y?"). Disarming in its apparent simplicity, an upbeat, innovative, delightfully engaging, and beautifully crafted first novel about everyday life in the inner city. (Fiction. 7-11)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 17, 1990

Three wonderfully simple vignettes that speak volumes through their juxtaposition. As narrated in the playful, repetitious language of a parent with a beloved child, blond Little Guy's blond daddy catches him, swings him about, and kisses his bellybutton until Little Guy laughs, "More... More"—as does brown Little Pumpkin, after her blond grandma chases her, "brings that baby right up close and tastes each of Little Pumpkin's toes." And even drowsy Little Bird wakes enough to murmur, "Mmm. Mmmm. Mmmm" when her mama kisses her and tucks her in. This joyful, unabashed affection is illustrated in the brilliant colors that appeal especially to infants; even the rainbow—bright lettering is harmoniously hand-colored. Perfect to share at bedtime with baby or toddler. Read full book review >
Released: April 18, 1988

Using a series of postcards supplemented by pages from a family photo album, the Williamses take us on a journey with a boy (7 or 8?), his adult brother, Fred, and the family dog, from their home in Kansas to the Pacific. Stringbean writes home every day; Fred adds comments. What begins for the reader as fascination with reading someone else's mail quickly expands into empathy for these nice brothers, who are good friends and companions, although Stringbean sometimes gets a little homesick and they also get on each other's nerves. (Stringbean talks a lot and thinks Fred is too interested in historical sites.) The details are delightful—the Williamses have devised whole series of illustrated postcards, complete with captions and special stamps, giving a taste of wildlife, landscape and history (including family history) en route. Besides the journey, the series is tied together by the brothers' search for a circus that once shared their campground (they want to return a clown's lost shoe), and by the strong family feeling subtly suggested on every page. This is a curiosity, but a charming one, just right to pore over with a favorite person—it takes a while to discover all those delicious details. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 20, 1986

In this ingeniously executed series of stories within a story a young black child shares herself, her art and cherries with the world. When imaginative Bidemmi is given a new magic marker by her friend, the story's narrator, she tells and draws three stories about people bringing home small portions of sweet, dark cherries to those they love. Then, in a final story, Bidemmi draws herself planting a cherry tree so that her friends can all partake. Williams excels in depicting a world where people with little material wealth and their share of life's troubles are nevertheless able to offer others whatever simple gifts they possess. Watercolor illustrations, rendered in rich cherry reds, warm yellows, and browns, perfectly complement the mood of the text. The naively impressionistic art for the framework story effectively contrasts Bidernmi's deceptively childlike compositions; a lively variety of imaginative details will keep any viewer's interest. Unfortunately, the final lines present a limp conclusion to an otherwise strong story, but the overall impact, like the cherries, is delicious. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 17, 1984

You might just well-up from the emotional charge of Williams' successor to A Chair for My Mother and Something Special for Me. It's the luminous tremor of the pictures, combined with what happens, that gives this a special vibrance. Grandma is sick, so the big, rose-print chair in the living room is often empty. Upstairs in bed, she likes it when Rosa and her friends play music for her: "Leora plays the drums, Mae plays the flute, Jenny plays the fiddle and I play my accordion." Worried because the big money jar is empty (maybe, says Mae, "because your mother has to spend all her money to take care of your grandma"), Rosa recalls her mother telling her about her other grandma, who played the accordion at parties and weddings, and was paid. Grandma's all for it. The Oak Street Band is formed; gets help, practices. And their first job is to play at a party for Leora's great-grandparents, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their comer market. (Now it's run by Leora's mother, who plays the radio. "But for the party she said there just had to be live music.") The children are first shy, then they play and play "like a real band"—while a whirl of dancers young and old fills two wordless pages. The book closes in quiet exultation, with Rosa putting her share of the evening's money into the big jar. Brimming to look at—see Grandma calling out the window, with big snowflakes in her hair—and heart-catching, sometimes, to listen to. Read full book review >
Released: April 18, 1983

The family money jar that paid for A Chair for My Mother is filling up again, and this time it will go for a birthday present for Rosa. "Rosa, you get something real nice," hollers Grandma as the little girl goes off with her Mother—straight to the skate store to buy roller skates like her friends have. The picture of Rosa trying on the spanking white-booted skates is vibrant with pleasure; but just as the skates are about to be wrapped, Rosa decides they "weren't really what I wanted to empty that big jar of money for." The same thing happens with the pink-jacketed dress and blue shoes she tries on at the department store, though you can tell from the picture that she feels pleased and pretty in them, and with the sleeping bag in the sports store. Rosa now fears that she will never find the right present—but after a treat at the Blue Tile Diner, where Mama works, and a wish on a star "that I would know what to wish for, . . . I heard the music." Mama explains that it's an accordion, like "your other grandmother" used to play. "People used to say she could make even the chairs and tables dance." Well, Rosa and readers know right away that this is "exactly" the right present. The music store has a used accordion they can afford; Uncle Sandy offers to pay for lessons; and Rosa's Chagall-like vision of making music while, encircling her, tables, chairs, and little girls dance gaily through the air, is the picture of joy and harmony. The warm intensity of feeling and the juicy expressive colors throughout make every page a gift. Read full book review >
A CHAIR FOR MY MOTHER by Vera B. Williams
Released: Oct. 1, 1982

A tender knockout—from the author/illustrator of, most recently and auspiciously, Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe. "My mother works as a waitress in the Blue Tile Diner," the little-girl narrator begins—and to the accompaniment of vividly colored, direct, proto-primitive pictures, the real-life-like story comes out. At home is a glass jar, into which goes all Mama's change from tips and the money Grandma saves whenever she gets a bargain at the market. "When we can't get a single other coin into the jar, we are going to take out all the money and go and buy a chair. . . . A wonderful, beautiful, fat, soft armchair." This is because—we see it as she tells it—all the family's furniture burned up in a fire; and though neighbors and friends and relatives brought replacements (a buttercup-and-spring-green spread to contrast with the charred gray gloom just preceding), "we still have no sofas and no big chairs." Only straight, hard kitchen chairs. Then the jar is full; the coins are rolled in paper wrappers, and exchanged for bills; and "Mama and Grandma and I" go shopping for the chair. This last sequence is a glory: Grandma feeling like Goldilocks, trying out all the chairs; the very rose-covered chair "we were all dreaming of," plump in the middle of the floor; the little girl and her mother, snuggled in it together. . . and she can reach right up "and turn out the light if I fall asleep in her lap." It's rare to find so much vitality, spontaneity, and depth of feeling in such a simple, young book. Read full book review >
Released: April 6, 1981

The jacket simulates an exercise-book cover, the crayon drawings are suggestive of a child's, the opening words put you in her place—"I was the one who first noticed the red canoe for sale in a yard on the way home from school." And then we are off on a three-day canoe trip, picture-mapped at the outset, with "My mom and my aunt Rosie and my cousin Sam." As presented, it's an adventure for the reader or looker-on too. The words "We drove and drove/ and drove and drove. . ." rise and dip, with the little car, across the top and bottom of the wide page; "Our First Morning on the River" brings a double-page spread of multiple activities ("Sam tries paddling"; "we find crayfish"); with the first night's stopover come illustrated recipes for dumplings and fruit stew, and illustrated instructions for putting up a tent. As on all such expeditions, there are high spots and low spots and sudden changes: in the rain, "I am shaking my paddle at the sky and yelling," when the sun comes out through a hole in the clouds and a rainbow appears. Fish jump around—pictured and labeled; an accident occurs—after which Sam, the culprit, "gets up as though the canoe were a baby's cradle." The resonant wordings, the eventfulness, the information—plus the spontaneity and contagious delight—combine into an experience that can be relived, with new discoveries, again and again. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 25, 1980

99 watermelons, two large honeydew melons, 100 birthday children, 1000 guests, and no story whatever. It all begins when the old couple who run the Fortuna fruit market wish to celebrate the birth of their first grandchild. They decide to give a free watermelon to every child born on that day, and the 100 children who qualify decide to have a party in the park. There are balloons and cakes and candles, and when the party's over the birthday children form a club. But it takes more than balloons and a general good time to make a picture book. Though Williams' casual line drawings show crowds of people enjoying themselves, they're not the sort of crowd scenes that have little individual jokes or dramas packed in for the amusement of observant viewers. Though tricky and pleasant, they seem better suited to birthday-party paper table ware than to hard-cover production. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 18, 1978

Prefaced (or padded) by the mini-story of three children who receive one as a Christmas gift, here are step-by-step directions for making a gingerbread house. Essentially, you make the dough and let it rest; roll it out; cut it into front and side walls and roof pieces according to the pattern provided; bake and cool the pieces and stick them together with frosting (recipe included); then decorate the whole with gumdrops, nuts, sesame squares, or whatever. For do-it-yourself gift givers, who might want to double the recipe so they can have one too. Read full book review >