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Ma Dear's Aprons


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About the Author

Patricia C. McKissack is the author of many highly acclaimed books for children, including Goin' Someplace Special, a Coretta Scott King Award winner; The Honest-to-Goodness Truth; Let My People Go, written with her husband, Fredrick, and recipient of the NAACP Image Award; The Dark-Thirty, a Newbery Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Award winner; and Mirandy and Brother Wind, recipient of the Caldecott Medal and a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

Floyd Cooper received a Coretta Scott King Award for his illustrations in The Blacker the Berry and a Coretta Scott King Honor for his illustrations in Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea, Meet Danitra Brown, and I Have Heard of a Land. Born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Mr. Cooper received a degree in fine arts from the University of Oklahoma and, after graduating, worked as an artist for a major greeting card company. In 1984, he came to New York City to pursue a career as an illustrator of books and now lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, with his wife and children.


Gr 1-4‘McKissack recounts the weekly routines of her great-grandmother, Ma Dear, through the eyes of David Earl, Ma Dear's son. Each morning the young boy sees his mother put on a different apron, one for each day's chore. The work is described in carefully chosen detail. Laundry is done by heating water, scrubbing each piece on the rub board, and using peach leaves in the final rinse. Ma Dear and David Earl take the sweet-smelling, neatly ironed and folded clothes in a horse-drawn wagon to the basement door of a large mansion on the other side of town. The rich white woman carefully checks the laundry and gives Ma Dear a quarter for her work. The mother's love for her son is seen in tangible ways as Ma Dear creatively involves David Earl in her weekly chores, teaching him to iron on practice pieces of cloth without making cat whiskers, singing while they clean, and making string designs during their lunch break. Cooper's oil wash paintings in muted colors capture the love of mother and son at work, rest, and play. The narrative ends abruptly with a change of focus to David Earl's father, who had been killed as a soldier. The real story is Ma Dear's. Children who have this book read to them will see an African-American woman whose life in the rural south of the early 1900s was difficult but lived with dignity and joy.‘Adele Greenlee, Bethel College, St. Paul, MN

If Ma Dear puts on her blue apron, "the one with the long pocket across the front," then young David Earl knows it must be Monday, wash day. Tuesday's yellow apron means it's ironing day; the green apron says it's Wednesday, when the laundry gets delivered to "the rich people." And so goes the rest of the week until Sunday, a special day when Ma Dear doesn't do any work-and needs no apron at all. McKissack (A Million Fish... More or Less) writes with fondness and respect about an African American widow who takes on exhausting work in order to support her son, and the early-20th-century setting-an era that knew few household appliances-renders her story all the more poignant. Her imagery ("a wind-dried sheet that smells of peach blossoms") is as bright and crisp as the "snappy-fresh" aprons. With Ma Dear's gentle words and attentiveness to David Earl, even in the face of her obvious weariness, the author offers a lesson in strength and kindness. One caveat: the story, so polished throughout, drops off abruptly on the final page. Cooper's (Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea) always luminescent oil washes here radiate the warmth of a loving mother-son relationship. His work abounds, too, with period details (non-electric irons, wash tubs, huge laundry baskets). A tender tale of love and sacrifice. Ages 3-8. (Apr.)

"There's love here, cast over David Earl's life with the same uncompromising grace Ma Dear brings to all thing in their lives". -- Kirkus Reviews

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