An often charming family saga.



Goodwyn tells the story of an African American family in this debut blend of history and memoir.

The author lost his mother to kidney disease in 1970, when he was a high school freshman in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Soon afterward, he was involved in a car accident that put him in the hospital for six weeks. The shock of these events instilled in him a great desire to find out where he came from: “Sometimes Mama would talk about her ancestors,” he remembers. “Mama’s great grandmother was a slave until she was twelve, when her father bought her freedom.” Goodwyn set off on a decadeslong genealogical journey to discover the story of his forbears, and this book is an account of that search and a presentation of its results. It includes the stories of Levin Huston and Esther Polk Huston, married slaves who lived on a Maryland plantation; their son, Solomon Huston, who was born in bondage and died as the founder of a bank; and the author’s great-grandfather Samuel Garnett Thomas, who, like the author’s father, eventually served as a high school principal. Goodwyn’s prose is conversational in tone and possesses a cheerful buoyancy, as in a discussion of the Hustons’ children: “For whatever reason, Hester and her family never knew what happened to Levin Delans Huston. But 158 years after Levin D. sent his niece, Willie, that jade necklace, I now know what became of him.” It’s a long read at more than 500 pages, and it feels more like two books in one; the first half is essentially a memoir of Goodwyn’s life, and the second is a series of profiles of his ancestors. None of the individual stories are particularly compelling, but the overall family history—and the account of Goodwyn’s rediscovery of it—gives readers a touching portrait of an American family. The book, which includes occasional photos of family members, also effectively shows how ancestry-research websites have helped many black Americans reconnect to their pasts. Goodwyn is an empathetic guide, and although some sections are more interesting than others, he manages to lend emotional weight to the project as a whole.

An often charming family saga.

Pub Date: May 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-950724-07-9

Page Count: 510

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-448-42421-5

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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