cover image Uncle Jed's Barbershop

Uncle Jed's Barbershop

Margaree King Mitchell. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, $18.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-671-76969-7

First-time author Mitchell crowds several themes--segregation, racism, the Depression, the American Dream--into her enterprising story. Sarah Jean's great uncle Jedediah, ``the only black barber in the county,'' hangs on to his ambition to open a barber shop, despite a lifetime of obstacles that deplete his savings. First, Sarah Jean requires an expensive operation; later, the bank failures of the Depression wipe out his painstakingly replenished account. The author's convivial depictions of family life are enhanced by Ransome's ( Red Dancing Shoes ) spirited oil paintings, which set the affectionate intergenerational cast against brightly patterned walls and crisp, leaf-strewn landscapes. The defining element of the book, however, may well be the narrator's measured descriptions of the racial climate of the 1920s: ``In those days, they kept blacks and whites separate. There were separate public rest rooms, separate water fountains, separate schools. It was called segregation.'' These starkly imposed social studies lessons, presented as interruptions to Uncle Jed's progress, also interrupt the narrative; readers will be impatient to attend his grand opening celebration at age 79 (along with a now-grown-up Sarah Jane). Ages 4-7. (Aug.)