cover image Little Cliff and the Porch People

Little Cliff and the Porch People

Clifton L. Taulbert, E. B. Lewis. Dial Books, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-2174-6

Taulbert's (Eight Habits of the Heart; When We Were Colored) first picture book is an expertly told story warm with nostalgia for the tightly knit black communities of the South in the '50s. Sent down the road to buy a pound of Miz Callie's ""special butter""--a vital ingredient for his great-grandmother's candied sweet potatoes--Cliff wants to heed Mama Pearl's admonitions not to stop along the way and to get back ""lickety-split,"" but the good manners instilled in him by Poppa Joe, his great-grandfather, demand that he greet his elderly neighbors as he passes. In the time-honored ""Stone Soup"" tradition, Uncle Abe Brown offers fresh nutmeg when he hears what's cooking in Mama Pearl's ""magic skillet,"" Mr. Boot-Nanny provides some vanilla from New Orleans and Cousin Savannah insists on giving him a small jar of ""fresh grease."" When Cliff finally returns with the butter--and everything else--Mama Pearl gets to work on the sweet potatoes. As suppertime rolls around all the impromptu contributors show up to help enjoy it. Taulbert's assured pace and judicious use of Southern vernacular imbue his prose with a strong regional flavor, and he draws his characters with great tenderness. The text's strengths are matched by Lewis's (Down the Road) luminous watercolors, especially his portraits. Firmly grounded in realism and brimming with an appreciation for familiar, homespun pleasures, they invite readers to pause a minute, as if to soak up some front-porch hospitality. Ages 4-8. (Feb.)