John Henry swims better than anyone I know.
He crawls like a catfish,
blows bubbles like a swamp monster,
but he doesn't swim in the town pool with me.
He's not allowed.
Joe and John Henry are a lot alike. They both like shooting marbles, they both want to be firemen, and they both love to swim. But there's one important way they're different: Joe is white and John Henry is black, and in the South in 1964, that means John Henry isn't allowed to do everything his best friend is. Then a law is passed that forbids segregation and opens the town pool to everyone. Joe and John Henry are so excited they race each other there...only to discover that it takes more than a new law to change people's hearts.
From Publishers Weekly
Set in Mississippi during the summer of 1964, Wiles's affecting debut children's book about two boys—one white and the other African-American—underscores the bittersweet aftermath of the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Rather than opening public pools, roller rinks and shops to African-Americans, many towns and private owners boarded up the doors. Wiles delivers her message incisively through the credible voices of her young characters, narrator Joe and his best friend, John Henry, whose mother works as housekeeper for Joe's family. Joe and John spend many hours swimming together in the creek because John is not allowed in the public pool, so on the day the Civil Rights Act is enacted, they visit the town pool together, excited about diving for nickels in the clear water. Instead they find a work crewAincluding John Henry's older brotherAfilling in the pool with asphalt. "John Henry's voice shakes. 'White folks don't want colored folks in their pool.' " The tale ends on an upbeat if tenuous note, as the boys walk together through the front door of a once-segregated shop to buy ice pops. Lagarrigue's (My Man Blue) softly focused, impressionistic paintings capture the lazy feel of summer days and affirm the bond between the two boys. The artist's close-up portraits of the boys' faces, as well as the body language of other characters, reinforce the narrative's powerful emotional pitch. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Ages 5-8. "John Henry Waddell is my best friend," begins the narrator of this story, set during a summer of desegregation in the South. John Henry is black and the narrator is white, so the boys swim together at the creek, rather than at the whites-only town pool, and the narrator buys the ice-cream at the segregated store. When new laws mandate that the pool, and everything else, must desegregate, the boys rejoice, until the town fills the pool with tar in protest and the narrator tries to see this town, "through John Henry's eyes." The boy's voice, presented in punchy, almost poetic sentences, feels overly romanticized, even contrived in places. It's the illustrations that stun. In vibrantly colored, broad strokes, Lagarrigue, who illustrated Nikki Grimes' My Man Blue (1999), paints riveting portraits of the boys, particularly of John Henry, that greatly increase the story's emotional power. Beautiful work by an illustrator to watch. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Did you find this review helpful?