cover image All Around Town

All Around Town

Dinah Johnson. Henry Holt & Company, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-5456-9

Johnson's inaugural children's book offers a rare view of life for African Americans living in Columbia, S.C., during the 1920s and '30s, through the photography of Richard Samuel Roberts. This self-taught photographer's carefully composed shots capture the emotion behind his subjects' often stoic facial expressions and reveal all the highlights of daily life: a bride and groom, a funeral procession, a baseball team and a family portrait, to name but a few. The author's spare, breezy text draws youngsters into Roberts's pictures with questions (""Six musicians with their instruments. Would you like to hear their favorite song?""), speculation (""This woman might have been a strict but loving teacher"") or factual observations (""Here's a beautiful little baby with a bow""). However, Johnson's text mixes fact (e.g. ""the grandson of one of these women just might have grown up to be an astronaut,"" and one woman is indeed astronaut Charles M. Bolden's grandmother) and fiction (like the alleged teacher cited above, whose actual career is unknown); this may be confusing to some children. Many of the photos are formal portraits of adults, either alone or in groups; child subjects ranging in age from infant to teenager will be particularly appealing to youngsters, especially one displaying a welcome touch of whimsy: a boy pictured with his arm around a tame rooster, which is incongruously perched on a chair indoors. The book's unadorned, album-like design effectively sets off Roberts's crisp, sepia-toned photographs, elegantly framed with simple line borders. Readers will likely be left with a feeling that they've visited a long-ago time that has much in common with their own. Ages 5-up. (Feb.)