cover image Tree of Hope

Tree of Hope

Amy Littlesugar. Philomel Books, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-399-23300-5

As they did in Shakerag, a tale of Elvis Presley's Southern childhood, Littlesugar and Cooper join forces to vividly evoke the past. This time the subject is the rebirth of African-American theater in Harlem during the Great Depression. Young Florrie has often heard the stories of how her father found joy as an actor at the Lafayette Theatre in the 1920s, the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance. He even met Florrie's mother there. But with hard times, the theater has closed, and now its only sign of life is the twisted tree that grows beside it. Every day Florrie and her father wish on the ""Tree of Hope"" for the return of the Lafayette. The wish finally comes true when, sponsored by the Federal Theater Project, director Orson Welles mounts an African-American production of Macbeth. In her ambitious text, Littlesugar unobtrusively uses history to anchor the experiences of a particular fictional family. After a somewhat slow denouement, the elements of her story neatly come full circle. Cooper's luminous oil paintings, fine as ever, breathe life into both the gritty period cityscapes and the memorable characters, whose faces are alternately shaded by despair and lit by hope. Ages 4-8. (Oct.)