cover image Bye, MIS' Lela

Bye, MIS' Lela

Dorothy Carter. Farrar Straus Giroux, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-374-31013-4

In this gentle but not altogether childlike picture book, an African American girl comes to terms with the death of her elderly caregiver. Sugar Plum fondly recalls how, when her mother went off to work, she played with the chickens and geese in the yard as Mis' Lela hung the piles of laundry on the line. She remembers how Mis' Lela bathed her in a washtub and fed her ginger cake. And then she remembers Mis' Lela's death. Attending Mis' Lela's wake, she saw her friend lying on her bed, dressed in her ""Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes,"" and realized they'd never play together again. Carter (Br'er Rabbit Meets His Match) tackles a difficult topic with a predominantly poignant voice and memorable characterizations. She clearly evokes a bygone era, a time when it was not uncommon for women to take in laundry and for a tinker to call door-to-door. However, Mis' Lela's passing breaks the tender mood Carter has established so well. This emotional shift may prove jarring for young readers, whom Carter fails to consider in her abrupt, vague descriptions of death and grief, and for whom the implicit message, that time heals, will be hard to accept. Stevenson's (The Tangerine Tree) oils feature a summery palette of greens, blues, yellows and pinks, suggesting sunny days spent outdoors. His portraits of a kind-faced Mis' Lela holding Sugar on her lap radiate warmth and love. Ages 5-8. (Apr.)