Pat Brisson, , illus. by Laurie Caple. . Boyds Mills, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-56397-966-8

A girl recalls the quality time spent with her mother before a prison term altered both their lives forever in this somewhat stilted picture book. Young Sugar has vivid memories of all the stories, hugs and fun times she shared with Mama. They even share the same birthday: "You were the best birthday present ever!" Mama would say. But then "Mama went away and everything changed." Sugar now lives with her grandmother and visits her incarcerated mother whenever Grammy is up to making the difficult trip. So Sugar and Mama must find a way to stay connected at the heart while they are physically apart. Brisson (The Summer My Father Was Ten ) writes with compassion addressing the emotional loss felt by a child with a parent in prison. However, the vague text begs many questions; at the very least, readers will want to know why Mama is in jail and for how long (when her daughter repeatedly asks Mama when she's coming home, the mother replies in a kind of refrain, "As soon as I can, Sugar, as soon as I can"). In Caple's (Giant Sharks ) watercolors, several elements (tears, light reflecting on glass) do not achieve a realism that would give the scenes resonance. Her portraits, uneven in their composition, lack consistency among the characters from spread to spread. Jacqueline Woodson's Visiting Day , illus. by James Ransome, offers a stronger depiction of the same situation. Ages 7-up. (Oct.)