cover image The Ballad of Belle Dorcas

The Ballad of Belle Dorcas

William H. Hooks. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $13.95 (38pp) ISBN 978-0-394-84645-3

Set in the Carolinas in the early 1800s, this intriguing story offers a rich bit of folklore. The narrative is based on a tale told to Hooks in his childhood and concerns a free-issue girl, Belle Dorcas, daughter of a slave and her white master, who grows up and falls in love with Joshua, a slave. The two marry, and when Joshua is about to be sold, his desperate wife calls on Granny Lizard, a local ``cunger woman''--conjurer--for help. The old woman's spell comes dear--it nearly costs Belle Dorcas her sanity and her beloved Joshua. But in the manner of all fine folktales, goodness and true love are rewarded, and the ending brings satisfaction to its characters--and perhaps a lump to readers' throats. Hooks's graceful prose captures all the drama and poignancy of this tale of star-crossed lovers, and Pinkney's brooding illustrations, reminiscent of woodcuts, provide the perfect accompaniment. With their swirls of muted color, they practically leap from the page in bringing these memorable figures to life. Ages 7-12. (Sept.)