Kimberley Willis Holt is the author of My Louisiana Sky and
the winner of the 1999 National Book Award for When Zachary
Beaver Came to Town. She lives in Amarillo, Texas.
Leonard Jenkins lives in New York City.
Gr 4-6-In this touching short novel set in a 1940s logging community, Jolene Jasmine Johnson is perfectly content with her close little family made up of just herself, Momma, and Grandpa. Then along comes Mister Leroy Redfield, a logger who spoils everything by distracting her mother and wheedling his way into the family with his charm. Although she has no memory of her father, the girl clings to the idea of him, providing her with one more reason to resent the newcomer's intrusion. Despite her efforts to make Mister disappear, Jolene's misdeeds only seem to strengthen his resolve to win her approval and become a permanent fixture in her life. Separate seating areas in the movie theater and her mother's part-time work sewing for white women make it clear that the story takes place in a racially segregated town, but these references are not fully explained. The focus of the story is Jolene's emotional growth and her eventual acceptance of this man whose love and patience allow her to expand her notion of family. Too bad this slim title may fall prey to that ever-important criteria of a requisite number of pages so valued by some teachers.-Lynda Short, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Lexington, KY
Holt (My Louisiana Sky) returns to Louisiana for this touching slice of life in a 1940 mill town. Young Jolene Jasmine Johnson can't change certain things about her world, like having to sit in the rear balcony at the movie theater, and acting polite to "Miz" Logan, the mill owner's wife for whom Jolene's mother sews dresses. But the outspoken heroine believes that she can keep things happy at home. That is, until logger Leroy Redfield, a man "dark as a starless night, tall and thick as a long-leaf pine tree," comes courting her widowed mother. Holt handily employs Jolene's first-person narration to focus more on the music of Louis Armstrong, community dances and family life than on societal clashes; the warmth and love in the Johnson household envelops the novel. The author balances Jolene's blatant displays of resentment toward her mother's beau (at one point, she cuts up the expensive fabric he has bought for Jolene's mother) with patience and tolerance from Leroy ("plain Mister" as Jolene calls him), and he eventually secures his future stepdaughter's trust. Jolene's acceptance of her mother's upcoming marriage comes gradually and convincingly, and her willingness to face the uncertainties of her future may well give courage to readers confronting sea changes of their own. Illustrations not seen by PW. Ages 7-11. (Sept.)