Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Mr Williams by Karen Barbour

This is the story of Mr. J. W. Willimas, who was born in 1929 in Arcadia, Louisiana. In the same year Martin Luther King, Jr. was born and Calvin Coolidge was president. Most children worked hard to help their families survive. His story is told by Ms. Barbour, as she remembered from his visits to her childhood home and what he told her before he died. He tells about living on their farm; the animals they cared for, the food they grew and the chores they did. It is a simple and charming tale with Barbour’s evocative paintings illustrating the rural life of this warm, strong, hard working family. The stories of fishing, planting, cooking, eating and going to church together are peaceful and lovely.

On summer evenings, I’d lie on the porch with a pillow. Be so hot sometimes you didn’t want to go in the house. I’d listen to the owls hollering and the whippoorwills calling and the toads and leapfrogs croaking and foxes barking their funny little dog barks. It was still, and the mosquitoes would buzz, and I could smell the gardenias and honeysuckle. The sky was clear, and you could look up and see the stars.
I would love to take this book home and read it to Buddy Boy as another example of farm life, (fitting for the fall and visits to the pumpkin farm) except for the one reference to white people. When Mr. Williams talks about going to school in the cold months he tells of walking five miles to school and back. He has to listen for the car of a young white man driving down the road trying to run him down.
When he got close, I would jump off the road. He’d veer off at the last minute. I was scared of some white people. They’d scare you up pretty good. If you ever saw white people you’d go way around them.
I just don’t have the heart to try and explain that history to Buddy Boy yet. For an older child who has already begun to try to figure out what is going on with racism, it might be a good way to open the discussion. It does show black family life as a positive, enterprising, nurturing environment during a historical period that often gets mostly negative description. I’ll keep it on my list for later on.

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