When matriarch Nana arrives to formally welcome Louise's newborn cousin into their extended African American family, she brings each child a symbolic present: a small comb for the prettiest, a joke from a bubble-gum wrapper for the funniest. Louise is crushed when Nana hands her a crumpled piece of paper, saying, "I give you the gift of a blank page on which you can put whatever you wish." At day's end, after Louise has come up with just the right solutions to two dilemmas, she appreciates the significance of her gift when Nana instructs her to write the word "creativity" on her piece of paper. Communicating the affectionate bonds within Louise's family, Smalls (Irene and the Big, Fine Nickel, see p. 73) mixes occasionally syrupy phrases (in Louise's Harlem neighborhood, "every corner provided kinship and love") with colloquial dialogue ("Uh, she don't know what she's talkin' about," says Louise's mother upon the child's disappointed reaction to Nana's present). Presiding adults may be disconcerted by unfriendly allusions to race and class: the elders have taken the day off from their jobs as "cooks, maids and janitors"; later, when a truck is stalled, neighborhood adults laugh to see the "fancy people from downtown," i.e., whites, "sweating for a change." Far more consistent and joyful, Bootman's (Young Frederick Douglass) impressively realistic paintings prove particularly effective in capturing the nuances of Louise's changeable disposition: the eagerness of her grin, the slump of her shoulder, the bounce in her step. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)
- Gisela Jernigan
Louise and her cousins eagerly await the arrival of Nana, the eldest member of their extended, Harlem family. When Nana arrives, the new baby of the family will be presented to her for the first time, but Louise is even more excited about receiving the gift that Nana always carries in her "magic" bag, one for each child. But, when she does get her gift, a blank piece of paper, she is very puzzled and disappointed. Eventually, she discovers that the gift of creativity really is the best gift of all. Appealing, realistic watercolors go well with this warmhearted family story.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3When Louise's extended family gathers so Nana can welcome a new baby, the elderly woman brings special gifts for her grandchildren that look into their souls and project their futures. For Dawn there is a secondhand book; for Jimmy a joke from a bubble-gum wrapper; but for Louise there is only a blank piece of paper. Louise hates it, for it makes her feel like nothing, but Nana tells her gently that her gift "...is the sum of all those others but greater." And events prove that the girl has the gift of creativity. The story is somewhat contrived; two occasions for Louise to show her problem-solving ability just happen to occur one after the other, and the writing is often self-conscious and stilted. Still, Smalls does create the atmosphere of a strong and loving African American family with traditions that bind and enrich their lives. The watercolor illustrations generally fit the mood and setting. Nana is no frail old woman but a full-figured, vigorous, and commanding presence. There are a few misses. Louise, taunting a younger cousin, looks inappropriately sympathetic, and when a group of sidewalk gawkers is supposed to be laughing at a truck stuck under an overpass, all look solemn. Despite some flaws, the story speaks to the importance of family and its approval in a young child's life and to her need to feel special and competent.Karen James, Louisville Free Public Library, KY