cover image Mama is a Miner

Mama is a Miner

George Ella Lyon. Orchard Books (NY), $15.95 (1pp) ISBN 978-0-531-06853-3

``When I'm settled on Bus 34 / Mama's crowded into a low car / cap light off, dozing, swaying / headed for Black Mountain's heart,'' says the narrator, who describes in detail her mother's job as a coal miner. Unfortunately, the warmth and originality of this family story are undermined by a needlessly complicated format and structure. Lyon poetically juxtaposes informative sections about mining with the story of the mother ``digging for home''; but, in a voice detached from the rest of the fact-filled narrative, she interjects bewildering, if colorful, quatrains (`` Firedamp, blackdamp, / Fire Boss checks the air / Bad top, kettle bottom: / don't go there ''). Catalanotto (Lyon's collaborator on Cecil's Story and Who Came Down That Road? ) alternates affectionate portraits of the family above ground with dark scenes of the ``miles deep'' mine, but the relation of his superb watercolors to the text is not always clear. Underneath a painting of a tea kettle on a kitchen stove, for example, the text reads, `` Screak and ring, rail wheels sing. / Back into black. Battery pack. '' An interesting miss. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)