Jacqueline Woodson's Coming on Home Soon
illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
A black child on the home front during World War II
An absent parent will seem a little more endurable after a sit down with this wonderful book.
Ada Ruth is left behind with Grandma when Mama leaves home for work during the 1940s, at the beginning of the Second Great Migration.
"They're hiring colored women in Chicago since all the men are off fighting in the war."
That's a much weightier sentence than what we normally read in picture books. In Coming On Home Soon, author Woodson doesn't feel compelled to explain it. (That's your job.)
Nor does she explain the unmentioned father. Off to war? Dead in the fighting? Merely absent? Anything is possible, meaning a modern child is free to see her absent father in the narrative. (Woodson explores the absent father theme in a much different way in Visiting Day.)
Illustrator E.B. Lewis makes his own contribution to the historical feel of the narrative in a way that earned him a 2005 Caldecott Honor. Your child will be struck by the austere nature of the home Ada Ruth is left behind in.
It is rural and sizeable but stunningly spare and unadorned to today's eye. One is left to feel how undistracted Ada Ruth is from her sadness and loneliness as she sits waiting and hoping for even a letter from Mama.
A kitten shows up on the doorstep during a snowstorm. Of course Ada Ruth wants to keep it, but to Grandma it's another mouth to feed. "Don't go getting attached now, Ada Ruth."
(But the cat's still in the picture when the story ends.)
Ice storm came last night," Grandma says
as she hunts possum and rabbit.
If she catches one, there'll be some meat for a stew.
A little bit of me hopes we find one.
A little bit of me hopes we don't.
Coming On Home Soon is a gentle story about a simpler time, but one without any romance to it. For a child separated from a parent (or two), Ada Ruth can be a friend who's been there.
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