Don't Say Ain't

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In the 1950s, Dana struggles to live in two worlds—her Harlem neighborhood and the advanced school she attends—while staying true to herself. Irene Smalls and Colin Bootman team up in this heart-warming story of friendship, integration, opportunity, and hard choices.

In 1957, a young girl is torn between life in the neighborhood she grew up in and fitting in at the school she now attends.

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In the 1950s, Dana struggles to live in two worlds—her Harlem neighborhood and the advanced school she attends—while staying true to herself. Irene Smalls and Colin Bootman team up in this heart-warming story of friendship, integration, opportunity, and hard choices.

In 1957, a young girl is torn between life in the neighborhood she grew up in and fitting in at the school she now attends.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Dana doesn't want to go to the advanced, integrated school in 1957 if it means leaving her two best friends behind in Don't Say Ain't. But Godmother declares, "You gone too far to fall back" and sends Dana off in her yellow party dress. Dana's young black teacher talks proper and Dana "miss[es] the running jive and banter" of her neighborhood friends, who now scorn her as a Miss Smarty Pants. Author Irene Smalls shows Dana solving her problems with sensitivity, staying true to herself and loyal to her friends while still excelling in the new school. Colin Bootman's expressive oil paintings portray a range of emotions, from Godmother's tenderness to Dana's tongue-sticking-out disdain of a snobbish classmate. 2003, Talewinds/Charlesbridge,
— Mary Quattlebaum
School Library Journal
Gr 2-4-Dana and her friends Cindybelle and Ellamae live in Harlem in the 1950s where Dana's godmother reminds them, "Don't say ain't, children. People judge you on how you speaks!" When her goddaughter's high scores on a special exam provide access to an advanced, integrated school, the girl isn't quite as enthusiastic as Godmother. Children snicker when her teacher corrects her speech, while at home, her friends call her "Miss Smarty Pants." One day, her teacher announces plans to visit each student's home, and Dana is first on the list. When she arrives, Dana is surprised to learn that "-Godmother knew Mrs. Middleton's mother back in Charleston, South Carolina." However, she is absolutely stunned when her teacher exclaims, "Honeychile, I ain't gonna eat more than one piece of your famous peach cobbler." Confused at first by the woman's use of nonstandard English, Dana is smart enough to discover an essential truth. She reconciles with her friends and announces, "If you want to say `ain't,'-/Just say it at home./And when you roam,/Speaking proper sets de tone-." Engaging, richly hued oil illustrations effectively capture the characters and setting. The flap copy notes that New York City schools were first integrated in 1957, and Smalls portrays the advantages open to a select group of students with subtlety. This perceptive and useful title can be used to generate discussion on a variety of issues.-Alicia Eames, New York City Public Schools Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Dana lives in Harlem in the 1950s and is smart-so smart that she is selected to go to an integrated school. But it means being separated from her best friends. Her godmother insists she go to the new school in her best party dress but the other girls are dressed in skirts with matching sweater sets. Dana misses the "running jive and banter" of her friends and the teacher asks her not to use "ain't" in school. Her classmates ignore her but she has the gumption to answer the last math problem when no one else can. Although she does well in school, she has no friends and her best friends are never at the corner anymore. The last straw is her teacher's announcement that she will be visiting each student's home, and she will begin with Dana. When her teacher arrives, Dana discovers that her godmother and teacher are the best of friends and speak in the familiar language (replete with aints) that she and her friends do. She and her two friends finally talk it out and while they're playing their favorite game of double Dutch, Dana makes up a verse-'If you want to say ain't, So people won't faint, And laugh and think you're quaint, Just say it at home." The wonderfully realistic oil illustrations are reminiscent of the fifties (all of the girls wear skirts-even when jumping rope) but are static and posed. The verso title page includes a quote from The Trouble They Seen: Black People Tell the Story of Reconstruction wherein a Louisiana freedman says that his children should be educated so they can read to him and, since he trusts them, he will know it's true. Educators will find this useful for experiencing an historic time not often seen in books for this age level. (Picture book. 7-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781570913815
  • Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/15/2003
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.74 (w) x 11.36 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Irene Smalls grew up in Harlem where Double Dutch was her favorite game. She graduated from Cornell University with a B.A. in black studies and from New York University with an M.B.A. She is the author of 15 books for children, including KEVIIN AND HIS DAD (Little, Brown). Irene Smalls performs and lectures at schools and conferences around the country. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2003


    School is a subject that is familiar to most children. And, attending a school outside of one's neighborhood is a subject that is becoming more and more familiar to youngsters today. At times, that situation presents adjustments and even problems. Such is the spot young Dana finds herself in. Our story is set in Harlem in the 1950s. Dana loves her neighborhood, and her friends. But, when she scores in a high percentile on a citywide test she is sent to a newly integrated advanced school. What a change! Some of the students at the new school are less than accepting, and even her teacher comments on Dana's language usage, saying, 'Do not use `ain't' in school.' When Dana attempts to change the way she talks then her old friends in the neighborhood withdraw wondering if Dana now thinks she is better than they are. It's a challenge for Dana to find her place in two very different worlds, both of which are changing. There are good lessons for all in this candid, affirming story illustrated with colorful oil paintings.

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