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by Karen English

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An ALA Notable Book.
An IRA Notable Book for a Global Society.

A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

A Coretta Scott King Honor Book.

Karen English has written several picture books and Strawberry Moon, her second novel. She lives in Richmond, California.


An ALA Notable Book.
An IRA Notable Book for a Global Society.

A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

A Coretta Scott King Honor Book.

Karen English has written several picture books and Strawberry Moon, her second novel. She lives in Richmond, California.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A keenly perceptive and gutsy heroine narrates this debut novel set in segregated 1940s Alabama. Francie, her mama and brother, Prez (named for FDR), patiently await word from her father, who has been gone for more than a year, to join him in Chicago where he works as a Pullman porter. Francie and her mother continue to make ends meet while bravely fending off the intimations from town gossips that their dream of reuniting their family may not come true. English (Just Right Stew) carefully and subtly plants the seeds for several dramatic scenes in the novel. For instance, Francie notices Holly, from a rich white family whom she and Mama work for, stealing a tube of lipstick; in a later chapter, when the shopkeeper accuses Francie of stealing a book she brought into the store with her, Holly stacks the evidence against Francie. The author effectively builds the rebellious streak in the heroine until Francie cleverly and humorously exacts revenge on the haughty Holly. English thus sets the stage for the moment when Francie comes to the aid of an older boy whom she tutored in reading and who is falsely accused of assaulting his white employer. These winning characters credibly surmount obstacles as a matter of course. In a triumphant and surprising ending, English pointedly leaves a few loose ends, but readers will come away knowing that Francie's spirit and intelligence will get her family through. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Thirteenyearold Francie Weaver lives a weary life, working long hours with her mother for the white women in the small, segregated town of Noble, Alabama, while her brother Prez and cousin Perry pick cotton after school. Francie's father has been in Chicago working for a year as a Pullman porter, and the Weaver children anxiously await the day they will join him for a better life. His letters promise Francie piano lessons and a childhood without all the hard work. Only at "Miss Beach's Boarding House for Colored" does Francie find brief moments of joy. Her teacher, Miss Lafayette, often gives Francie books that she treasures reading. Just before her eighth grade graduation, Francie begins tutoring sixteenyearold Jesse Pruitt, who supports his family instead of attending school. After his father takes him out of school to work the fields, Jesse disappearsthe sheriff wants him for trying to kill the white farm foreman. Francie puts her family in jeopardy when she decides to help Jesse. English paints a vivid picture, often in painful detail, of the difficult life of many African American women of the South before the Civil Rights movement. Readers will gain valuable information about the 1930s through mention of Pullman porters, President Franklin Roosevelt, migration to Chicago, and, of course, the harsh reality of segregation. This book will be a valuable addition to middle school collections and for use in history classrooms. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P M J (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 1999, Farrar Straus & Giroux, Ages 12 to 15, 208p, $16.Reviewer:Brenda MosesAllen
Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Waiting for the day her Pullman porter father will send for the family, Francie bides her time in her small-minded Alabama town. An absorbing picture of the past, populated with courageous characters pursuing a dream. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-The best student in her small, all-black school in preintegration Alabama, 12-year-old Francie hopes for a better life. While she and her strict mother wait for her Pullman porter father to move them up North, they work very hard just to survive. Cleaning, cooking, and waiting tea for the white people in town, Francie wonders just what it would be like to have nothing to do other than enjoy the day, but each of her father's letters brings only promises and disappointment. When Jessie, an older school friend who is without family, is forced on the run by a racist employer, Francie leaves her mother's labeled canned food for him in the woods. Only when the sheriff begins searching their woods, and her younger brother and cousin are abducted, does she realize the depth of the danger she may have brought to her family. Francie's smooth-flowing, well-paced narration is gently assisted by just the right touch of the vernacular. Characterization is evenhanded and believable, while place and time envelop readers. The message that one must rise out of oppression and actively seek a better life is a good one. Excellent companion books might be Carolyn Meyer's White Lilacs (Gulliver, 1993) and Patricia McKissack's Run Away Home (Scholastic, 1997).-Cindy Darling Codell, Clark Middle School, Winchester, KY Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher

“Set sometime during the Truman administration [1945-1953], this portrait of a 12-year-old black girl in Alabama is a model of economy. Karen English compresses worlds of feeling and experience into every sequence of her first novel, offering readers not just a good diversion but an opportunity to try on someone else's skin.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Francie's smooth-flowing, well-paced narration is gently assisted by just the right touch of the vernacular. Characterization is evenhanded and believable, while place and time envelop readers. The message that one must rise out of oppression and actively seek a better life is a good one.” —School Library Journal, Starred Review

“Readers will cheer Francie and her brave mother, from whom she inherits her rare grace and honesty.” —The Horn Book

“A keenly perceptive and gutsy heroine.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“English beautifully captures the charm and peril of Francie's Alabama.” —USA Today

Product Details

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By Karen English

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 1999 Karen English
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-2964-6



I did something to that cat, I admit it. But that cat did something to me first.

All year we've been washing clothes every weekend at Miss Beach's Boarding House for Colored — Mama and I. All year that cat's had something against me.

Saturday morning, we went there to wash the linens. I could see Miss Beach sitting on her porch glider as we came up the hill toward her large white three-story house. She had that cat on her lap. Treasure. He'd scratched me four times already

There he sat with his fat orange caterpillar tail swishing slowly back and forth as if he was fanning flies, his mouth stretching in a wide yawn so that I could see all the way down his pink little throat, past that pink spade tongue and mouth full of tiny razor teeth. Miss Beach nodded at us, then rose and let him spill from her lap.

"Hurry and round up the linens, Francie," she said, squinting at the sky. "I feel a storm coming up."

Mama and I headed out back, Mama to get the tubs ready and me to take the back stairs up to the rooms. I started with Mr. Ivory's room, gathered his sheets, sniffed some of his colognes and hair ointments, and then made my way to my teacher Miss Lafayette's room. I liked her. Sometimes she left books on her bed for me to borrow and then discuss with her later. Sometimes she left a cologne packet from her beauty order. She'd had to go down to Louisiana Friday night for two weeks to take care of some mysterious business, so I knew I wouldn't be seeing her that day — or Monday neither. I frowned, thinking of having Miss Lattimore, the principal, who always substituted for Miss Lafayette.

I studied myself in the bureau mirror. I was waiting to look like I was of some age, but I still seemed nearly as young as my brother, Prez, and he was ten. Prez's real name was Franklin, after our last President. Mama always said I had nice eyes. Now I looked at them closely. She said God had blessed me with my daddy's thick eyebrows and long lashes. I supposed that she was right.

I checked Miss Lafayette's gallery of porcelain-framed photos on the bureau — all of them light-skinned folks like her — and ran her silver-handled brush through my hair. Then I carefully plucked out my wiry strands from her silky ones.

As I was turning to go, having had my fill of fiddling with other people's belongings, I heard a noise. There was Treasure coming out from under the bed, doing that little wiggle cats do when they're getting ready to pounce. I wondered how he'd gotten to the room without me seeing him.

"Fool," I said, liking the feel of the forbidden word in my mouth. But before I could get it out good, before I could sashay on out of there, that cat ran at me and swiped my leg, drawing a line of blood. It was just through pure reflex that I was able to grab hold of him before he could get away. He twisted and turned in my clutch and tried to reach back and nip at my hand. He pawed at the air with his bared claws, making me even madder.

I marched him into Miss Beach's room at the end of the hall, shoved him into the bottom of the wardrobe, and slammed the door shut. I stood there a moment, breathing hard but feeling triumphant. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to shout.

Then I pushed my deed to the back of my mind and finished gathering the linens from the other rooms. I made my way down the back stairs and said nothing about my stinging leg, though I wanted to show it to Mama — just for any sympathy I might wring out of her. But I bit my tongue on my pain and just dumped my load near where Miss Beach stood in the middle of the kitchen sorting the piles with the tip of her shoe and telling Mama which laundry needed bleach and bluing, which collars and cuffs needed extra attention, and on and on and on and on, like the drone of a pesky fly. She paused long enough to glance over at me and say, "I hope you weren't up there meddling."

"No, ma'am," I mumbled. She stepped away from the piles of laundry and nodded at me to take over. I squatted down to finish the sorting, kind of puffed-up and satisfied and smiling to myself.

Miss Beach was of a suspicious nature. She didn't even believe we were moving to Chicago in a few months when Daddy sent for us. He'd gone up there a little over a year ago to work on a passenger train as a Pullman porter. It was hard work, he'd told us on a visit, serving white folks, even polishing their shoes and ironing their clothes, but if that's what it took to get his family up to Chicago, it was worth it.

Once I heard Miss Beach warning Mama not to get her hopes up. Maybe we wouldn't be going to Chicago, after all. She'd heard of menfolk all the time promising their families they were going to send for them and never doing it. And Pullman porters had some of the worst reputations. Some even kept two families, one down South and one up North. Her words made me have a bad dream about Daddy getting another family up in Chicago and giving them the life he was supposed to give us.

Miss Beach had told Mama that Beulah Tally never left to go nowhere, and after her husband had promised. "Don't count on going to Chicago, Lil. It might not happen." Mama didn't say a word.

Now, when Miss Beach turned her back to reach for the bowl of sugar on the sideboard to sweeten her tea, I stuck my tongue out at her.

By noon Mama and I had gotten the first load of laundry ready to be wrung out and hung on the lines. The sky was clear and blue. Miss Beach's "feeling" about a storm had only meant to hurry us up. We sat down on Miss Beach's back steps to eat the lunch we'd brought: cold yams and lemonade. Miss Beach crossed in front of us, her hand shielding her eyes against the bright sun, and I knew the consequences of my deed were soon to be met. She went back and forth across the lawn, then disappeared around the corner of the house. I raked my front teeth along the inside of the yam skin to get every last bit.

We worked the rest of the afternoon getting everything washed, rinsed, and wrung out for the line. In the late afternoon Mama sent me home to get dinner ready for Prez. I passed Miss Beach stepping out onto the veranda, fanning a face full of woe. "You seen Treasure?" she called out.

"No'm," I called back. It was true. I hadn't seen him — lately.

Mama came home fuming. I was sitting on the porch with a letter from Daddy balanced on my knees, the afternoon's events neatly tucked away in a far-off, hazy place in my mind, when I saw her shadowy form moving down Three Notch Road toward our house almost in a trot.

I stopped petting Juniper, our dog, and he raised his head, his ears perking up as if he sensed danger barreling toward him as well.

"Mama looks mad," Prez said from behind me. I hadn't noticed him come out to the porch. "Why you think, Francie?"

"How'm I to know?" I said, my mouth suddenly dry.

Mama marched up to the porch steps, and stood with her feet splayed in the dirt. Her nostrils flared in the dying light as she said breathlessly, "Go get me a switch."

My eyes welled up. Prez sucked in air loud enough for me to hear. I could picture his eyes wide with fear that he was the one who was going to get it.

"Move it!" she growled.

I moved it to the sweet-gum tree on the side of the house, and barely able to see through my tears, I searched the lower branches for a switch that would please Mama. I didn't dare bring her one that wouldn't.

She was in the house, pouring water in the basin, when I came in with a knotty branch dangling from my hand. It felt like a whip. I set it on the table. Mama splashed some water on her face. "Go on in the other room," she said over her shoulder after patting her face dry with a towel.

My lower lip began to tremble at the calmness she'd taken on. I walked toward the bedroom as if I was walking to my death. I had barely crossed the threshold when I felt the first burning lash cut across the back of my calves. My fresh cat scratch caught fire. I jumped and yelped at the same time.

"Mama ..." I cried, bending to grab my leg. Whop! That next blow caught my hand. The pain shot up my arm to the shoulder.

"Have you lost your ever-lovin' mind?" she said, her voice tight through clenched teeth. Whop! "You trying to make me lose one of my jobs?" Whop! Whop! "I'll beat you till you can't sit down!" Wham! The switch came across my behind to help her make her point.

She hit me until I guess her arms got tired. Then she said, "Francie Weaver, why you want to hide that woman's cat?"

It was hard to speak around my fit of hiccups. "I don't know." It was true. I didn't know why'd I do something that was bound to get me in trouble.

"She might not let you come around no more," Mama said. "You sit on that bed and think about what you did." She went out of the room.

I hobbled over to the bed I shared with Mama, the letter now balled in my hand. I hadn't had a chance to give it to Mama. I slipped it in my dress pocket, bitterly deciding to keep it to myself.

I sat and sat, inhaling the scent of the greens and corn bread I'd cooked for me and Prez. I would have to sit there until Mama felt I'd seen the error of my ways.

At one point, she passed the door and said, "You better pray to God for your soul." I knew she was right. Every once in a while I did some hateful things and I just didn't know why.


Our Side of Town, Their Side of Town

The next morning when I woke up, the unread letter was still in the pocket of my dress I'd draped over the chair. My eyes were swollen from crying all night. Mama had left without me, still angry, I guessed, because she didn't even say goodbye. She left word with Prez that I was to come to Mrs. Montgomery's by noon to help set up for her monthly tea. Aunt Lydia, Mama's sister, usually helped at these teas, but her time was close and she'd been troubled with swollen ankles. I thought about the new baby coming soon and hoped for a girl. I was tired of Prez having our cousin Perry to play with and me having no one. Though I knew it'd be a long time before a baby would be a friend.

I fed the chickens and swept the yard. Prez left to go to the Early farm to help plant cotton with Perry. I started off toward Mrs. Montgomery's. Up ahead Mr. Grandy, in his battered old pickup truck, was heading in the same direction. I could've run ahead to catch a ride with him, but I decided to take my time.

"Francie ..."

It was Miss Mabel, Three Notch Road's moocher, up on her porch, beckoning me over to her.

I pretended not to hear and kept on walking.

"Hey," she called.

I gave up and headed over to her sagging porch steps, glancing around her unswept yard at the parched weeds. My feet felt hot in the shoes Mama made me wear when I had to go into town. I longed to take them off.

"You goin' by Green's anytime tomorrow?" Miss Mabel asked quickly, grinning and showing off her missing teeth. Half her hair was braided and half hung loose.

"Maybe." I could feel her thinking how she was going to con me as she sat there with her lap full of snap beans, a pot at her feet, and right next to her, her snuff can. She rearranged the wad of tobacco in her lower lip.

"Can you pick me up some snuff? I'm 'bout to run out." She leaned over and aimed a stream of brown juice at her can.

"Green don't let kids buy snuff."

"He will if'n you tell him it's for me."

I dug the tip of my shoe into the dry dirt. I looked out toward the Grandy pasture, at the black and brown cows in a cluster, some grazing, some stupidly staring off. I'd be so glad to leave this road — and Miss Mabel and her cunning ways. I was sick of cows, sick of Miss Mabel, sick of work, work, work. I counted the days I had left in Noble.

A while ago she'd got me to pick up a pound of coffee and put it on Mama's tab. I nearly got a beating for that one. "You watch," Mama said. "That old woman's gonna have more excuses than the law allows. We ain't never gonna get the money for that coffee."

Three days in a row I'd come by to get the money and she come up with three different excuses.

"You never paid for that coffee I bought for you," I said now.

Miss Mabel let her mouth droop in a brooding way. "Go on, then, if you don't think I'll pay you." She made a shooing motion with the back of her hand. She didn't have to tell me twice. I backed out of the yard and was on my way.

I sang a little tune, then dug in my dress pocket to get Daddy's letter. Ha, ha, ha, I thought as I opened it. I might not ever read it to Mama.

It began the usual way — no news after the "I hope this letter finds you well" stuff and the part about sending for us before summer's over. I did like the last paragraph:

When you all get up this way, Francie and Prez, all you going to have to do is go to school. And Francie, I'm going to find you a piano teacher and Prez, I'm going to find you a baseball team to play on. It gets real cold in Chicago. There's plenty of opportunity. This is the place where you just have to work hard and you can do anything!

Love, Your Daddy

Piano lessons. I loved just looking at a piano. The thought of learning to play ...

I folded the letter and put it back in my pocket and continued on to Mrs. Montgomery's tea in Ambrose Park, the white section of town. When I reached the house, I followed the footpath around to the back porch, pausing to pet Portia, Mrs. Montgomery's cocker spaniel. I could hear Mama's busy sounds in the kitchen through the open window.

I stood there a moment, not wanting to go in. Clarissa, Mrs. Montgomery's niece from Baltimore who'd come to live with her because her parents were going through a divorce, was sitting cross-legged on a blanket under the Chinese elm, her nose stuck in a book. She glanced at me, pushed up her glasses, and then went back to her reading. I didn't like her, because she was all the time sneaking a peek at me. I stepped into the kitchen.

"What took you so long?" Mama said, looking over at me from the sink. Last night's beating came back to me and my mouth drooped. "Come here and let me look at you." She squinted. "You wash your face?"


"Mmm." She pulled a handkerchief from her dress pocket. "Here. Wet this on your tongue and go around your mouth. Looks like you left some breakfast on your face."

I sighed and did as I was told.

"Now." She nodded at the sink full of dirty dishes. "Get those washed, dry those punch cups." She indicated a bunch of cups upended on a towel on the counter. "And iron that basket of linens over there."

With dread I followed her pointing finger. There must have been fifty napkins, damp and balled up. I sighed again and went over to the sink. At least the kitchen had indoor plumbing and a double sink. At least there was an ironing board and an electric iron with five heat settings.

I went over to the radio, turned on Homemaker's Exchange, and started in on the dishes while I listened to the recipe for coffee sponge jelly. The last time I'd listened, it had been mayonnaise cake, and the time before, green-tomato pie. We didn't eat like white folks, that was for sure.

Mama caught that faraway look in my eye, and said, "Pay attention to your work, Francie." Clarissa came in then, licking the icing off of one of Mama's petit fours. She snuck a look at me and went over to the refrigerator to get herself a tall refill of lemonade. I felt her eyes on the back of my legs and turned to catch her studying them with interest. I went to work on a stain on the stove top with the Dutch Boy. When I finally stopped and checked behind me, she was gone. Mama caught me and pointed at the basket of linens.

As we walked home in the late afternoon, I slipped my hand in my pocket and ran my finger along the folded edge of Daddy's letter. Just a few more months, I thought.



I still carried my school shoes, at least to the school yard, before putting them on. Daddy had sent them from Chicago in December and to me they were still new and special and too good to be getting dust or mud on them. I didn't care about the snickers I got from the Butler boys every morning as they joined me and Prez and Perry on the road.

"Why you carryin' your shoes, Francie?" Bertrum Butler asked me.

"Cause I don't want no dust on them."

"Cause they from Chicago ..."



Excerpted from Francie by Karen English. Copyright © 1999 Karen English. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Karen English is the author of many children's books, including Speak to Me (And I Will Listen Between the Lines), which was an SLJ Best Book of 2004. Her book The Baby on the Way, illustrated by Sean Qualls, was published in Fall 2005. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

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Francie 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My 6th grade english class read this in class, and it was tons of fun! If you read with a southern accent like Francie has, the book will be much more entertaining and a lot of fun!
SJKessel More than 1 year ago
English, K. (2002). Francie. New York: Sunburst. 0374424594 Set in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Francie lives with her mother and brother in the segregated Alabama while her father works and sends money from Chicago. Francie helps her mother work various jobs and attends school while she dreams of being able to move north and have access to "possibilites". She faces bullying and many small injustices under segregation. When a teenager she is teaching to read is accused of attempting to murder a white man, Francie faces the choice of whether or not to help him with the risk that will make life become more difficult for her family and all of the other blacks living in her town. While this well-written book is not a formal mystery, Francie's love for Nancy Drew novels and her clever ways of getting back at those who torment her add a sense of tension that helps the book feel like a historical mystery. Also worth noting, Francie does complicate issues of race beyond whites=evil, blacks=victims. There are a few white characters who are presented in a positive light and some black characters who Francie is less than fond of for understandable reasons. Activities to do with the book: There are multiple references to other works of literature, including Nancy Drew mysteries, War and Peace and the poems of Langston Hughes that a teacher could base lessons around. A teacher could also emphasize the power of literacy, since many of the supporting characters wish they could read as Francie does. A teacher could also use this book as a basis for lessons on American history, including information on transportation, economic conditions, criminal justice and segregation. When discussing segregation, this is a good book to show the subtle forms of racism and discrimination that occurred on a daily basis. A daring teacher could also consider whether some of these small injustices still continue in present-day American society as well. Another way of connecting this text to recent events is to consider how assumptions over Jesse's guilt or innocence were divided along racial identity. A teacher could draw parallels to judgments people made about OJ Simpson when he was on trial for murder. Favorite Quotes: "I did something to that cat, I admit it. But that cat did something to me first" (p. 3). "I was innocent, but the world had decided to make me guilty. Why did I feel so guilty?" (p. 61). "God had blessed me with knowing I could fight my way out of my circumstances, if need be" (p. 63). For more of my reviews, check out
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very intresting and kept me hooked on. It had a lot of creativity. This also taught me a lot about history. If you like historical fiction, this would be a great book for you to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is so good I'm in 5th grade and if you are looking for a good book to read this is a wonderful book!!!!! If you cry easily you will cry in this book
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is wonderful! I think everyone should read it! I think it is great how Francie never gives up hope that her dad will come home! I love this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book wasn't as good as i thought it would be! i was expecting this book to be interesting since it's about the boy who's accused of murder! but it's not all about that at all! only about 1/4 of the book is about the boy! it's really not interesting so i wouldn't recommend it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Francie is a book about a young teen who has a hard, depressing life. Much of the book is her talking about how life's not fair and how she is gonna get whipped when she gets home. This book is very slow and also makes you sad when you read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book really shows great courage. It is very good. I read this book in 2 days it was so good. I would really recomend this book to anyone who is looking for a good and fast read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Francie is a great book. I would definetly recomend it to all readers over twelve years old.