It’s 1915 and Pap is in New York City, working on the construction of the subway system. He earns good money as a sandhog, but it’s backbreaking, dangerous work. Meanwhile, his family in Pennsylvania is preparing for a lonely Christmas without him. Mim and the children plan the decorations and Mim makes her mythical “belly-hum jam,” a recipe that has been passed along in her family since the slave era. It is so named because it makes your belly sing with the main ingredients of family pride and love. Pap and his sandhog colleagues, Donovan, Gilletti, and Jones cannot expect time off for Christmas because their bosses, nicknamed “Mean and Evil,” will not allow it. But a jar of Mim’s special jam arrives on the day of Christmas Eve and Pap takes it to work to share with his friends. He gives some to his bosses, who are instantly infused with the spirit of Christmas and close the dig site for the holiday. Pap and the sandhogs arrive home in time for a joyous Christmas. The author’s text is a simple evocation of a warm and loving family separated by economic necessity. The dangers and difficulties of Pap’s work are not ignored, but the emphasis is on the love and commitment of all the family members. The story flows seamlessly between rural home-life, the bustling city, and the underground work site. The happy ending is just a bit too sweet, but is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the work. An introduction presents some factual information about the construction of the New York City subway system and the work of the sandhogs, who were mainly African-Americans and immigrants. A recipe for the jam is included. The illustrator’s signature scratchboard art of heavy black outline and strong acrylic colors adds visual clarity to the stark differences between the settings. The farm scenes are bright and full of lively color. In comparison, the underground scenes are in shades of brown, with the figures of the men lit only by work lights. The Pinkneys have again succeeded in presenting a lesser-known aspect of African-American history as a moving, sensitive story with which modern young readers can identify. (Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-15-201918-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Gulliver/Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2001

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New parents of daughters will eat these up and perhaps pass on the lessons learned.


All the reasons why a daughter needs a mother.

Each spread features an adorable cartoon animal parent-child pair on the recto opposite a rhyming verse: “I’ll always support you in giving your all / in every endeavor, the big and the small, / and be there to catch you in case you should fall. / I hope you believe this is true.” A virtually identical book, Why a Daughter Needs a Dad, publishes simultaneously. Both address standing up for yourself and your values, laughing to ease troubles, being thankful, valuing friendship, persevering and dreaming big, being truthful, thinking through decisions, and being open to differences, among other topics. Though the sentiments/life lessons here and in the companion title are heartfelt and important, there are much better ways to deliver them. These books are likely to go right over children’s heads and developmental levels (especially with the rather advanced vocabulary); their parents are the more likely audience, and for them, the books provide some coaching in what kids need to hear. The two books are largely interchangeable, especially since there are so few references to mom or dad, but one spread in each book reverts to stereotype: Dad balances the two-wheeler, and mom helps with clothing and hair styles. Since the books are separate, it aids in customization for many families.

New parents of daughters will eat these up and perhaps pass on the lessons learned. (Picture book. 4-8, adult)

Pub Date: May 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-6781-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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A fresh take on an enduring theme.


When Irie tells her momma she hates her big poofy hair, her momma explains that everything about Irie was perfectly custom made.

Irie wants her hair to swing and bounce like the “pretty hair” that “everyone else” has. But Momma tells her that she didn’t make Irie to be like everyone else. “I made you to be you.” Momma explains that when she was expecting Irie, she talked to God and made special requests. Out of all the skin tones in the world, Momma chose her favorite for Irie. The same for her hair type, her sparkling eyes, her kissable nose, and her bright smile. Momma also chose a good heart for Irie, and when she was born, she was perfect, and as she grew, she was kind. When Momma tells her “you are all of my favorite things,” Irie runs to the mirror and sees herself with new eyes: a “most perfect me.” This sweet, imaginative tale highlights the importance of parental love in boosting children’s self-esteem and will be a touching read-aloud for families who have struggled with issues of fitting in. The story is a challenging one to illustrate; the full-color digital art is warm with soft shades of natural-looking color but struggles to create engaging scenes to accompany Momma’s explanation of her conversation with God. The multiple spreads showing Irie and Momma flying through the atmosphere among clouds, stars, and hearts become a bit monotonous and lack depth of expression. Characters are Black. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

A fresh take on an enduring theme. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-42694-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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