cover image THE HARD-TIMES JAR


Ethel Footman Smothers, , illus. by John Holyfield. . FSG/Foster, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-374-32852-8

Smothers's (Down in the Piney Woods) tale movingly attests to the rewards of hard work, honesty and of having dreams. Eight-year-old Emma and her family have "[come] up on the season," from Florida to Pennsylvania, to harvest crops as migrant workers. Emma loves books, but her family cannot afford "the store-bought kind," so she writes her own stories on brown paper connected with safety pins. When new ideas distract Emma from watching her younger siblings or picking apples, her mother warns: "Do you want me to hide that pencil?" Emma works to help add money to the family's "hard-times jar," hoping some day to buy a book. Debut illustrator Holyfield uses color to understated yet dramatic effect. Earthy browns and greens convey both the austerity of the family's one-room home, and the lush orchards where they work. He movingly portrays Emma's turning points: her mother holding her, gently telling Emma that she'll be going to school; Miss Miller, her teacher (whose "face reminded Emma of buttermilk"), introducing Emma to a classroom of white children ("She had never gone to school with people Miss Miller's color. Down south it was not allowed"); the teacher pulling aside long red drapes to reveal the school library. After Emma's mother discovers that she has sneaked home library books, Emma stands before the teacher, her posture (feet together, hands clasped, the incriminating books on the teacher's desk) capturing the trepidation of a child's confession to a respected adult. The book closes with an uplifting scene of Emma's mother giving her coins from the hard-times jar, recognizing Emma's need for her own book. Ages 4-8. (Aug)