cover image Down Home at Miss Dessa

Down Home at Miss Dessa

Bettye Stroud. Lee & Low Books, $14.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-880000-39-7

A first effort for both author and illustrator, this languorous picture book focuses on two African American sisters living in the rural South in the 1940s who spend a summer day caring for an elderly neighbor with a sore foot. Seemingly matching the stride of the season's sleepy pace, the low-key narrative follows the day's activities: the girls help Miss Dessa stitch a quilt; dress up in old clothing from a trunk in the back room; pick flowers from the garden and fruit from nearby trees; and eventually read Miss Dessa a bedtime story before they themselves curl up in an old iron bed. There's not much in the way of action or use of language to hook readers; however, Stroud successfully conveys the strength of the bond between two generations, subtly underscoring the key fact that, though the siblings are ostensibly there to help Miss Dessa, the support and caring are mutual. Similarly, while Marshall's textured acrylic illustrations also capture the characters' compassion, the images are often too sketchy and blurred, more impressionistic than dynamic. Ages 4-up. (Sept.)