cover image Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper's Daughter

Osceola: Memories of a Sharecropper's Daughter

Alan B. Govenar, Osceola Mays. Jump at the Sun, $15.99 (64pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-0407-8

Govenar here gathers the recollections of Osceola Mays, an African-American woman born in Texas in 1909, from interviews and conversations that he conducted with Mays over a period of 15 years. In brief one- and two-page sections, Mays's engrossing first-person voice recounts snippets from her early days. Especially strong are the vignettes that focus on specific moments, such as ""How I Got My Name,"" in which Mays explains how she changed her name from Garnell (she was named after a neighboring white girl: ""It was a carryover from slave days, when slaves were given the names of their masters"") to Osceola after meeting an Indian by that name, and the bittersweet juxtaposition of ""Santa Claus Night"" with its immediate successor, ""Mama Dies,"" in which Mays contrasts Christmas before and after the death of her mother. But if Govenar's editing retains the feel of oral history, it also lacks a sense of an overall story arc. As a result, the volume does not have the cumulative emotional impact of collected histories like Leon Walter Tillage's Leon's Story and Eloise Greenfield's Childtimes. Mays's warm, personable and pleasantly meandering manner emanates throughout the volume, and her history is well worth hearing. Newcomer Evans's framed portraits with skewed perspectives heighten the drama of each memory. The paintings of a grieving motherless Osceola facing away from readers as she looks through a seemingly quavering window frame, an illustration of her baptism and a portrait of her sharecropper father, dwarfed by the long rows he's plowed in a cotton field, are especially moving. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)