cover image Dear Willie Rudd

Dear Willie Rudd

Libba Moore Gray. Simon & Schuster, $14 (1pp) ISBN 978-0-671-79774-4

Moving, evocative and thought-provoking, Gray's ( Miss Tizzy ) work deals with an ambitious topic, the Jim Crow South. As she rocks on her twilit front porch, Miss Elizabeth, a middle-aged white woman, thinks wistfully of Willie Rudd, the black housekeeper of her childhood home, ``now surely gone to heaven if anyone ever has.'' With quiet determination, she addresses the long-dead servant, writing to her ``for my mother and for my grandmother and for me.'' The letter belatedly voices Miss Elizabeth's love for her and the wisdom she has gained in the 50 years since her girlhood. ``I wish you could come to see me once again,'' she writes. ``This time you would come in my front door . . . not my back door.'' Her wistful list continues (``We would go to the movies and sit together in the front row''). When she finishes, she ties the letter to a kite and releases it heavenward, then resumes rocking on her porch. With great subtlety Gray unfolds the story of a life--and of a country's shameful history. Fiore's richly textured, full-spread oil paintings in dusky hues capture both Miss Elizabeth's revisited childhood world and her contemplative mood as she rocks against the darkening sky. A beautiful and significant book. Ages 4-6. (Aug.)