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JONKONNU by Amy Littlesugar


A Story from the Sketchbook of Winslow Homer

by Amy Littlesugar & illustrated by Ian Schoenherr

Age Range: 8 - 11

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-399-22831-4
Publisher: Philomel

 Littlesugar continues her series of picture books about artists (A Portrait of Spotted Deer's Grandfather, p. 1308, etc.) with this retelling of an incident that happened when Homer was mid-career. During the Civil War, as an illustrator for Harper's Weekly, Homer became interested in the lives of the former slaves. In 1875 and 1876 he returned to the South to find out how they had fared in the decade since the war's end. In contrast to the derogatory stereotypes then common in depictions of plantation life, Homer painted African-Americans with sympathy, dignity, and beauty, capturing, at one point, a man dressed for Jonkonnu, an old slave holiday. His interest was not appreciated by some of the local white toughs, whose confrontation with Homer on the porch of the town hotel is the central incident in Littlesugar's book. It is related in the colloquial voice of the fictional Cilla, here presented as the daughter of the hotel owner. In sketchbook style, many of the illustrations consist of figures without background, which has the effect of highlighting the composition of the figures in space and intensifying the drama of the relationships between them. Ideally, this book might be paired with a work such as Ann Keay Beneduce's A Weekend with Winslow Homer (1993) to give readers a better sense of Homer's life, times, and work than is provided in the excellent but very brief endnote. (Picture book. 8-11)