cover image The Secret of the Stones

The Secret of the Stones

Robert D. San Souci. Dial Books, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-1640-7

Ransome's (Uncle Jed's Barbershop) strikingly realistic oil paintings form the backbone for San Souci's (The Talking Eggs) retelling of a folktale from Virginia Holladay's Bantu Tales and based on African-American Arkansas lore. As a childless couple walks home after a long day in the cotton fields, Clara finds two white stones that ""shone as pale and round and smooth as twin moons in her cinnamon-colored palm."" Though John questions their usefulness (""What yo' gonna do with dose li'l rocks?""), his wife brings the stones home. In a rather abrupt transition, the duo returns home from work the next day to discover their chores mysteriously completed. After a clairvoyant neighbor reveals her dream--that the rocks are actually an orphaned boy and girl--she bids John and Clara to visit the ""conjure-man"" who transformed the children. Though the pacing here is not as fluid as in some of San Souci's retellings, he skillfully blends dialect and atmospheric description (the villain's eyes ""were two narrow slits that made him look mean as a rattlesnake""). Ransome's close-up portraits convey the range of emotions for the couple as well as the liberated children, and his rendering of a white conjure-man delivers a strong underlying message. Ages 4-8. (Dec.)