cover image Miz Berlin Walks

Miz Berlin Walks

Jane Yolen. Philomel Books, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-399-22938-1

Yolen is pitch-perfect in her delivery of this tender tale of the friendship that blossoms between an elderly white woman and an African American girl. Miz Berlin is well known in her neighborhood for the long and slow walks she takes around the block each evening. Mary Louise can't help wondering about the odd lady, who seems to be talking to herself as she passes by. One day Mary Louise's curiosity impels her to accompany Miz Berlin for a short stretch of the walk, and to her delight she discovers Miz Berlin's talent for spinning stories. The two form a poignant bond that sustains Mary Louise even when Miz Berlin's walking days come to an end. Dedicating her story to her real-life grandmother, Fanny Berlin, Yolen adopts first the voice of the grown Mary Louise, who narrates the tale in flashback, and then interpolates the voice of Miz Berlin. Her mellifluous text, occasionally peppered with Southern dialect, has the easygoing pace of her heroines' strolls. Atmospheric descriptions of wind that ""whispers kindly through the tall sycamores"" and ""the time it rained feathers"" provide Cooper (Gingerbread Days; Ma Dear's Aprons) with choice imagery for his subtle, grainy paintings soaked in Virginia sunlight. He pairs lively portraits of Miz Berlin and Mary Louise with scenes of Mary Louise imagining herself in Miz Berlin's adventures, progressively involving the reader and strengthening the implied message that storytelling has a reality of its own. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)