Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My Favorite Picture Books: Mr. Williams

Mr. Williams written and illustrated by Karen Barbour

Mr. Williams was a real person, a friend of the author's mother. She has created this picture book based on his words and it shows. Sitting and reading this book is like listening to a wise man recount his youth in simple but profound words. He was born in 1929. His large family worked every day (except Christmas), struggling to feed themselves and make ends meet. In one page, he admits he feared white people and that white boys would sometimes threaten them with his cars. Because his language is so straightforward, readers and listeners are left to wonder what this means without forcing any specific reaction.

The illustrations are not my usual style; they are bold with occasional green skies and blue faces, but their very flamboyance interacts with the starkness of the words in a fabulous way.

Mr. Williams had a difficult youth, full of hard work, but reading this book does not give the impression that he or his family were unhappy. They seemed to love each other and to work well together. Reading this book will give a young child a wonderful glimpse into the life of poor black Louisiana farmers in the 1930s and 1940s, but more than that, it will make readers wonder what beauty and goodness surround us every minute of every day (and night). It's worth sharing even if you're not reading through American History in picture books.

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