cover image PAPA'S MARK


Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert, , illus. by Colin Bootman. . Holiday, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8234-1650-9

At the start of this affecting story, Simms and his papa ride into their Southern town on their weekly shopping trip. It's a few weeks before election day, when African-Americans will be allowed to vote for the first time. The kind white shopkeeper gives Simms a poster announcing the election and, after the purchases are completed, asks Samuel to put his "mark" on the store pad. "Every Saturday Simms watched Papa put an X on the pad. Simms's gaze fell to the floor," explains the understated narrative. When they return home, the boy offers to show his father how to write his name so he'll "never have to make that X again," but Samuel gently rebuffs the offer. Yet late that night, the sleepless boy arises and spies his father hunched over a piece of paper, producing letters that, in his own words, look "like chicken scratch." Soon the father asks for his son's help, which is willingly given. In a triumphant denouement, Samuel signs his name on voting day and asks Simms to join him in putting the ballot in the box. Battle-Lavert (previously teamed with Bootman for The Music in Derrick's Heart ) broadens the historical scope of her story with references to blacks' hesitancy about voting, as they fear trouble from angry whites. Bootman's oil paintings contrast emotion-filled character studies with softly focused backdrops of the rural landscape or with relatively spare interiors. Judicious use of light and shadow underscores the message of hope. Ages 4-8. (Feb.)