cover image DON'T SAY AIN'T


Irene Smalls-Hector, , illus. by Colin Bootman. . Charlesbridge/Talewinds, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-57091-381-5

Smalls (Kevin and His Dad) sets her choppy tale in 1957 Harlem. Dana is jumping rope with her best friends, Cindybelle and Ellamae, when her godmother appears and announces, "My baby's passed a test. Goin' to an advanced school!" When she sees her friends on her way to her new, integrated school on the first day, Dana hears Cindybelle mutter to Ellamae, "She thinks she's better'n us cause she's goin' to that advanced school now." Dana, in her starched and pressed party dress, stands out from her classmates, who wear pleated skirts and sweater sets. Her teacher, also African-American, privately tells Dana not to use the word "ain't." But when the teacher visits Dana's home and says the forbidden word while chatting casually with Godmother, Dana immediately runs outdoors and makes peace with her pals. In the equally facile conclusion, Dana jumps rope to her own rhyme: "If you want to say 'ain't,'/ So people won't faint,/ And laugh and think you're quaint,/ Just say it at home./ And when you roam,/ Speaking proper sets de tone,/ So folks won't moan,/ And dat's that." Bootman's (In My Momma's Kitchen) spare, lifelike oil paintings credibly convey the era and the heroine's emotions. Unfortunately, even the book's positive message cannot overcome the stilted storytelling. Ages 6-9. (Feb.)