In Honor of Black History -- and Good Books

Article excerpt

Children like to see their lives reflected in books. That's why they love Goodnight Moon as a bedtime story and why they might want to read Cynthia Rylant's Dog Heaven over and over for weeks after the family pet dies.

Not only do they want to read about familiar situations, they want to see people who look like themselves in books, too. Though we always pick titles that reflect the diversity of our readers, today's selections concentrate on African-Americans in honor of Black History Month.

-- Title: Mama Elizabeti

-- Author and illustrator: Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen/Christy Hale

-- Publisher: Lee & Low Books

-- Price: $15.95

-- Ages: 4 to 8

Readers who remember the charming Elizabeti from 1998's award-winning book, Elizabeti's Doll, will be happy to see her again.

When we left her last, Elizabeti's mother had just given birth, and Elizabeti practiced mommy chores right alongside Mama. The baby doll Elizabeti so lovingly cared for was a rock she called Eva.

In the latest book, Elizabeti actually uses her mothering skills. As Mama takes care of newborn Flora, Elizabeti takes responsibility for her baby brother, Obedi. She ties Obedi to her back with a kanga cloth and goes about daily chores -- or at least, she attempts too.

Elizabeti tried to sweep the floor, but Obedi pulled her hair. Elizabeti sifted rocks out of the rice, but Obedi slapped at the basket, spilling some of the rice on the ground . . . Elizabeti went to get water, but Obedi wiggled so much that the heavy water jug fell off Elizabeti's head. Elizabeti slumped down near the fallen jug. How did Mama ever get anything done?

Author Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen spent time in Tanzania as a volunteer in the Peace Corps during the 1980s. Her experiences there are reflected in the text, providing a social studies lesson. However, the best thing about the book is its universal appeal. What mother or big sister can't relate to Elizabeti's mix of exasperation and joy? Whether you're trying to balance a water jug on your head in an African village or pushing a shopping cart through a grocery store in Jacksonville, the baby wiggles around in the same impatient, endearing manner.

Christy Hale's illustrations complement the warm mood of the story. Readers who study the pictures will feel as if they are flipping though a family photo album and looking at fine art at the same time. Familiarity and fineness -- appropriate descriptions for the story and the illustrations.

Welcome back Elizabeti. We hope to see you again soon.

OTHER CHOICE CHOICES

-- The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales told by Virginia Hamilton (Alfred A. …