THE HUNDRED PENNY BOX by Sharon Bell Mathis
Kirkus Star


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The best parts of Mathis' overpraised Teacup Full of Roses (KR, 1972) were the observations of neurotic family dynamics, and this much smaller, more closely focused story (which benefits immeasurably from the trimming) shows that she can be as sensitive to more positive attachments. The only false note occurs in an early conversation between Michael's parents, too obviously designed to project a strong black family image; the rest is a loving evocation of the relationship between the little boy and his hundred-year-old great-great-Aunt Dew, who keeps a penny for every year of her life in an old broken half-rotten box that Michael's mother threatens to throw away. Aunt Dew often calls Michael by his father's name, John, but it's not necessarily because she mixes them up. (""Look like John just spit him out,"" she keeps repeating.) Michael bugs Aunt Dew when she wants to sleep, and she often sings her long song (""Precious Lord. . . Lead me on. . ."") when he wants to talk or play. But when Aunt Dew says ""Them's my years in that box. That's me in that box,"" Michael understands what his mother doesn't. The Dillons' shadowy brown watercolors, dark like old memories, set ghosts of those hundred years behind the child and the wrinkled, almost fleshless old woman.

Pub Date: May 19th, 1975
Publisher: Viking