cover image Bubber Goes to Heaven

Bubber Goes to Heaven

Arna Wendell Bontemps. Oxford University Press, USA, $17.95 (96pp) ISBN 978-0-19-512365-4

Written in the early 1930s, this previously unpublished work may be of greater interest to devotees of Louisiana-born poet and folklorist Bontemps (Lonesome Boy; and with Langston Hughes, The Pasteboard Bandit) and other literary figures associated with the Harlem Renaissance than to the average young reader. After 10-year-old Bubber falls out of a high tree while coon hunting in the Deep South, he imagines that angels transport him to heaven. There he is taken in by Sister Esther (""Except for her wings and nightgown she would have resembled very closely the large black woman whose picture Bubber had seen on boxes of pancake flour""). She explains the pain he experiences across his shoulder blades (""Yo' wings is beginning to sprout""), makes him a flannel robe (standard heavenly garb) and gives him a lesson in flying. An illuminating note from Minter interprets Bontemps's deliberate use of black stereotypes and dialect, which ground the book in a specific period setting. Yet some of the elements are surprisingly timely (the multicultural thrust of a heavenly children's performance in which Bubber takes part) or timeless (the boy's stage fright on the same occasion). Tampering with scale and intentionally exaggerating facial features, Minter's stylized linoleum block prints offer a fitting visual interpretation. An afterword by Charles L. James presents a biographical sketch of Bontemps and discusses both the highly personal nature of this story and its application to the wider African-American experience. Ages 6-12. (Dec.)