More picture books paint vivid scenes of everyday life for young black children

BOOKS FOR KIDS

January 28, 1994|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

As parents, teachers and librarians look ahead to February and Black History Month, it's an opportune time to look back.

Thirty years ago, when the civil rights movement was at its height, most public libraries had a handful of children's books that featured African-American characters. In some states, you were lucky to find "The Snowy Day" by Ezra Jack Keats and "Corduroy" by Don Freeman.

Now many libraries have shelves of "titles of black interest" in children's sections, and the displays stay up year-round. Yes, plenty of the books are biographies and histories. But plenty more are picture books and board books that star kids who happen to be African-American. Here are a few new ones worth '' checking out:

* "Sweet Baby Coming" by Eloise Greenfield and "The Baby" by Monica Greenfield, both illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist (HarperFestival, $4.95 each, 12 pages, ages 1-4) are companion board books.

In "Sweet Baby Coming," Mommy and Daddy are going to have a baby. Their daughter, who is 2 or 3, runs through all the emotions of an expectant sibling. She's excited: "I'm going to be a sister!" She's worried: "Is the baby going to like me? Will the baby want to stay?" At the end, she cuddles with her new baby brother.

"The Baby" is a simple look at a day in the life of a baby. She kicks, she cries, she nurses, she sleeps, she smiles a perfect smile, and then she eats some more. The illustrations, in pen-and-ink and watercolors, capture baby's expressions perfectly.

* Another set of books takes toddlers through their everyday paces. The four "Jump at the Sun Board Books" are written by Dessie Moore, illustrated by Chevelle Moore (HarperFestival, $5.95 each, 10 pages, ages 9 months to 3 years).

"Good Morning" shows a boy in green pajamas yawn and stretch, and eventually climb into bed with Mom and Dad, telling them it's time to get up. Then there's "Getting Dressed," also starring a boy, and "Let's Pretend," in which a little girl rhymes her way through the day:

Let's pretend to run a store.

We'll help all the people who come through the door.

In "Good Night," a girl and her mom go through the rituals of splashing in the bath, putting on pajamas, reading a story and sharing a hug and kiss. The illustrations in all four books are done in oil pastels on black paper, almost pebbly in texture, and framed in geometric, African-inspired borders.

* Some of my most vivid memories involve new shoes: dread at the sight of those blister-inducing, brown oxfords I'd have to wear to Catholic school; exhilaration that extended my vertical leap by at least 6 inches when I tried on my first pair of genuine P. F. Flyers.

That P. F. Flyers feeling came back in a rush when I read "Red Dancing Shoes" by Denise Lewis Patrick, illustrated by James E. Ransome (Tambourine, $14, 32 pages, ages 4 and up).

Grandmama comes back from a trip with presents for everyone, including a shiny pair of red dancing shoes for the star of this book, a girl of about 7. As soon as she buckles on the Mary Janes, her feet start flying. She does the Twist, the Swim, the Jerk and the Mashed Potato.

Her big sister walks with her to town so she can show off the new shoes. She's thirsty from all that dancing, so they get grape snow cones to cool down. Then, those shoes start running as the girls approach the house of Grandmama's sister, Nen.

You can see it coming. She trips and lands in the dirt, her shoes scuffed and muddy. They won't even dance anymore. Nen has the answer. She gets out a rag and rubs on some goop from a jar in the kitchen -- it's not that patented cure for patent leather, Vaseline, but it does the trick. The shoes are back in action, and Grandmama is none the wiser.

Mr. Ransome's oil paintings are rich with motion and emotion. His work includes "How Many Stars in the Sky?" and "Aunt Flossie's Hats (And Crab Cakes Later)."

*

The Anne Arundel County Public Library will celebrate Black History Month with appearances by storyteller Len Cabral. No advance registration is required for his 45-minute performance; donations of canned food for the Anne Arundel County Food Bank are welcomed.

The schedule: 7 p.m. Tuesday at the North County Area Library, 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Severna Park branch, 7 p.m. Thursday at the Eastport-Annapolis Neck branch and 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5, at the Provinces branch.

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