Sandra Belton, , illus. by Benny Andrews. . Greenwillow/Amistad, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-688-17480-4

A boy comes to love his father's much-revered mentor, Miss Josie, in Belton's (From Miss Ida's Porch) insightful story about the real-life Josephine Carroll Smith, a daughter of slaves who rose to prominence as an educator in Washington, D.C. The unnamed protagonist feels a little afraid when he first meets Miss Josie (as he looks at the row houses on her street, "he wondered if she was the one who had pushed all the houses together"), and his ambivalence persists some years later, when he passes through the Washington train station and dodges her when she comes, per his father's arrangement, to take him to lunch. When the boy enters college, however, he forges a relationship with Miss Josie that leaves him every bit as admiring and devoted to her as his father. The boy's initial hesitation gives readers room to form their own opinion of Miss Josie, making it all the likelier that they will share the characters' high regard for her. In Andrews's (Sky Sash So Blue) collage paintings, elongated human figures stand tall and proud; abstract floral or geometric patterns show up as clothing or background detail to quietly syncopate the compositions. The illustrations also solidly depict action only implied in the narrative, thus complementing Belton's economy of language while propelling the story. Eloquent in and of themselves, text and art interact so as to magnify each other's power. Ages 5-up. (Apr.)