It’s washday. That doesn’t mean putting clothes in the washing machine and turning the knob or driving to the laundromat; it’s 1889, when it’s the old-fashioned way of getting clothes clean.
Lizzie and her doll, Amelia Cordelia, walk to her grandmother’s house to help because her Ma is soon to have a baby. The work is hard: boiling water in a big copper kettle; adding shavings of lye soap; sorting the clothes by color (whites for Sunday “go-to-meeting” clothes); using the broom handle to lift the hot clothing into rinse water; putting them through the wringer; and drying them on the outdoor clothesline. Taking a break with a glass of buttermilk, Lizzie is sad thinking about the doll tea party she was supposed to have with her friend that day. Surprise! Grandma has set the table for a tea party with special dishes and doll-size snickerdoodles and places for her best friend and her doll. Bunting evokes a homespun experience with emotions and details that the pencil-and-watercolor illustrations adroitly augment. Sneed neither whitewashes nor prettifies the harshness of the time; Grandma is a robust woman with hair in a bun and a big nose. Historical details like hairstyles and sturdy black shoes combine with phrases like “Grandma’s dog…has the misery in his back” to make the story feel genuine.
An appealing snapshot of rough-hewn life that might well make kids appreciate washing machines. (Picture book. 5-8)