cover image Louise's Gift: Or What Did She Give Me That For?

Louise's Gift: Or What Did She Give Me That For?

Irene Smalls-Hector. Little Brown and Company, $15.95 (1pp) ISBN 978-0-316-79877-8

When matriarch Nana arrives to formally welcome Louise's newborn cousin into their extended African American family, she brings each child a symbolic present: a small comb for the prettiest, a joke from a bubble-gum wrapper for the funniest. Louise is crushed when Nana hands her a crumpled piece of paper, saying, ""I give you the gift of a blank page on which you can put whatever you wish."" At day's end, after Louise has come up with just the right solutions to two dilemmas, she appreciates the significance of her gift when Nana instructs her to write the word ""creativity"" on her piece of paper. Communicating the affectionate bonds within Louise's family, Smalls (Irene and the Big, Fine Nickel, see p. 73) mixes occasionally syrupy phrases (in Louise's Harlem neighborhood, ""every corner provided kinship and love"") with colloquial dialogue (""Uh, she don't know what she's talkin' about,"" says Louise's mother upon the child's disappointed reaction to Nana's present). Presiding adults may be disconcerted by unfriendly allusions to race and class: the elders have taken the day off from their jobs as ""cooks, maids and janitors""; later, when a truck is stalled, neighborhood adults laugh to see the ""fancy people from downtown,"" i.e., whites, ""sweating for a change."" Far more consistent and joyful, Bootman's (Young Frederick Douglass) impressively realistic paintings prove particularly effective in capturing the nuances of Louise's changeable disposition: the eagerness of her grin, the slump of her shoulder, the bounce in her step. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)