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Books Open the World

A Little About Myself
African American Literature


Author Focus: Mildred Taylor


McKissack, Patricia. Mirandy and Brother Wind. 1988. New York: Dragonfly Books. ISBN: 0-679-88333-9.

Plot Summary:

Acclaimed African American children's author, Patricia McKissack, along with renowned illustator Jerry Pinkney, created a beautiful story of Mirandy and her dream to win the much-coveted cake at the annual community cakewalk.

Mirandy, depicted by McKissack and Pinkney as an energetic, determined little girl, takes the advice of others in an attempt to catch Brother Wind to help her win the cakewalk. Once she shares her wish with Brother Wind, Mirandy proceeds to win the prized cake. Although the author does not explicitly state Mirandy's wish, the reader can see it play out as her clumsy friend, Ezel, holds his head high dancing with her "like shadows in the flickering candlelight".

Analysis & Literary Considerations:

Beautifully illustrated in full watercolor, this children's book captures the life of an African American community quite some time after the end of slavery. The author incorporates such themes as the preservation of African American tradition and folktales. McKissack's use of an African American dialect and language pattern that is appropriate for this time period provides the reader a more authentic experience into the story of little Mirandy.

Pinkney's depiction of the characters' skin tone and facial features respectfully adds quite nicely to MicKissack's piece. The inclusion of Mis Poinsettia's vibrant attire, jangling jewelry, and gift of brightly colored scarves also aid the reader in accepting the authenticity of this piece.


It is easy to see why Pinkney and McKissack's collaborative efforts on Mirandy and Brother Wind received such honorable awards as the ALA Notable Book and the Notable Children's Trade Book. The most impressive award; however, is the book being named the winner of the Coretta Scott King Award. Given annually by the ALA to African American authors and illustrators for children's literature, Mirandy and Brother Wind demonstrated the quality of multicultural literature needed in all the different cultures. In addition, this book was also awarded the Caldecott Honor Book.

Although I have not yet shared this delightful story with a child, my plan is to share it with my friend's daughter this summer. My hope is that I will be able to observe a connection to the piece as discussed in the articles we read this week, as the child is of African American decent.


Woodson, Jacqueline. The House You Pass on the
Way. 1997. New York: Penguin Group, Inc.
ISBN: 0-14-250191-3.

Plot Summary:

Woodson writes a richly layered story of a young girl struggling like most teens to find her identity. The daughter of an interracial couple living in an all-black community, Staggerlee's story is both poignant and contentious.

The young girl's hopes are renewed when an adopted cousin, struggling to find herself too, spends the summer with Staggerlee. The two girls find comfort in sharing their uncertainties with one another. When Tyler returns home, a rejuvenated Staggerlee holds the memories of a summer spent coming to understand she isn't the only young woman to desire the company of someone of the same gender. Over time, however, Tyler's heart changes and Staggerlee must deal with her secret alone once again.

Analysis & Literary Considerations:

Winner of a National Book Award and Coretta Scott King Award for two previous pieces, Hush and Miracle's Boys, author Jacqueline Woodson presents a topic few children's authors touch on --- that of gay and lesbian characters. Alongside this sensitive topic, Woodson incorporates contemporary African American themes such as differences within intragroup colors and interracial relationships.

Having no illustrations, The House You Pass on the Way relies solely on the author's chosen language pattern and dialect to authenticate the piece. The names of the characters do not particularly show evidence of any specific culture. However, Woodson does include in the story the young girl's reason for taking on the name Staggerlee.


Although this piece fits appropriately in the last culture of this course --- Inclusive, I was unaware of the topic prior to beginning to read it. The most difficult part about reading this piece was that of keeping an open mind about the topic of sexual identity. I was challenged as a reader to focus on other story elements, as I was somewhat uncomfortable with the topic.

As a teacher I began questioning how books touching on such sensitive topics as interracial relationships and gender preferences would make their way into the hands of young people. I can see myself avoiding the likes of The House You Pass on the Way; leery a parent would not find it my place to expose their son or daughter to such a topic.

In the school I teach in, most children are only exposed to books through their teachers and our librarian. Our student population would never encounter this book most likely. My plan is to talk with my librarian to see how books of sensitive topics such as The House You Pass on the Way are either selected or not for inclusion in a school library.


Johnson, Angela. Heaven. 1998. New York: Simon
& Schuster Children's Publishing.
ISBN: 0-689-82290-1.

Plot Summary:

Winner of the 1999 Coretta Scott King Award, respected children's author, Angela Johnson continues to amaze readers with her story of Marley and her life in Heaven, Ohio. Young Marley has lived in what appears to be heaven with her parents and her 12-year old brother, Butchy, since the tragic accident.

While Marley admires her friend Shoogy Maples' obviously pristine family life, she comes to learn that not every family is what it appears to be. Through the 14-year old's struggle to find her identity, the reader easily becomes engaged in the girl's questioning what really makes a family. Is it your name, who you live with, or who actually gave birth to you?

Anger takes over Marley once it is revealed that her mysterious Uncle Jack is really her long lost father that abandoned her when his wife was taken in a fatal accident. The teen is also enraged when she subsequently learns that her mother and father are truly her aunt and uncle. As the book comes to a close, Marley comes to realize that it's love that makes a family.

Analysis & Literary Considerations:

Angela Johnson's chosen style of writing Heaven in the present tense, coupled with actual letters from Marley's Uncle Jack, gives this story a feeling of one that is in the "here and now". Johnson chooses the voice of first person (that of Marley) to tell this story.

Heaven is a story told without actual illustrations not excluding the cover page. Johnson's ability to describe the characters young Marley is surrounded by aids the reader is an overall picture of the home. There is a reasonable amount of text set aside describing the local market ---Ma's Superette. The reader gets a "feel" of the community through Johnson's choice of language.

The most obvious themes to me in this delightful story of love and family are those of loyalty and obligation to one another and love and its true meanings. In addition, the reader can see woven into this story the strength of this African American family in holding itself together after such a traggic event.

The characters' names are not unique to any one culture and therefore do not stand out as one such marker of African American literature. However, Johnson's chosen language pattern and dialect support the credibility of the piece.


Having heard nothing but accolades about well-known children's author, Angela Johnson, I was quite eager to read anything I could get my hands on of hers. There has been much talk among colleagues about her award-winning The Last Part First. When I experienced difficulty getting my hands on this book, I turned to acquiring others by Johnson. That's when I came across and great review of Heaven. I am pleased I chose this book to read, and have since obtained two other accomplishments of Johnson.

Unlike the previous piece I read, I feel quite comfortable in sharing this wonderful story of understanding one's identity, family, and belonging. Several times I asked myself, "Is this the 'Bobby' my colleagues were referring to in the other story?" I can hardly wait to read other books by this delightful author.

Thumbnail pictures of books provided by Scholastic, Inc.'s website,, and Barnes & Noble respectively.

Experience it with me!!!