cover image Ma Dear's Aprons

Ma Dear's Aprons

Patricia C. McKissack, Pat McKissack. Atheneum Books, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-81051-0

If Ma Dear puts on her blue apron, ""the one with the long pocket across the front,"" then young David Earl knows it must be Monday, wash day. Tuesday's yellow apron means it's ironing day; the green apron says it's Wednesday, when the laundry gets delivered to ""the rich people."" And so goes the rest of the week until Sunday, a special day when Ma Dear doesn't do any work-and needs no apron at all. McKissack (A Million Fish... More or Less) writes with fondness and respect about an African American widow who takes on exhausting work in order to support her son, and the early-20th-century setting-an era that knew few household appliances-renders her story all the more poignant. Her imagery (""a wind-dried sheet that smells of peach blossoms"") is as bright and crisp as the ""snappy-fresh"" aprons. With Ma Dear's gentle words and attentiveness to David Earl, even in the face of her obvious weariness, the author offers a lesson in strength and kindness. One caveat: the story, so polished throughout, drops off abruptly on the final page. Cooper's (Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea) always luminescent oil washes here radiate the warmth of a loving mother-son relationship. His work abounds, too, with period details (non-electric irons, wash tubs, huge laundry baskets). A tender tale of love and sacrifice. Ages 3-8. (Apr.)