It’s 1915 and Pap is in New York City, working on the construction of the subway system. He earns good money as a sandhog, but it’s backbreaking, dangerous work. Meanwhile, his family in Pennsylvania is preparing for a lonely Christmas without him. Mim and the children plan the decorations and Mim makes her mythical “belly-hum jam,” a recipe that has been passed along in her family since the slave era. It is so named because it makes your belly sing with the main ingredients of family pride and love. Pap and his sandhog colleagues, Donovan, Gilletti, and Jones cannot expect time off for Christmas because their bosses, nicknamed “Mean and Evil,” will not allow it. But a jar of Mim’s special jam arrives on the day of Christmas Eve and Pap takes it to work to share with his friends. He gives some to his bosses, who are instantly infused with the spirit of Christmas and close the dig site for the holiday. Pap and the sandhogs arrive home in time for a joyous Christmas. The author’s text is a simple evocation of a warm and loving family separated by economic necessity. The dangers and difficulties of Pap’s work are not ignored, but the emphasis is on the love and commitment of all the family members. The story flows seamlessly between rural home-life, the bustling city, and the underground work site. The happy ending is just a bit too sweet, but is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the work. An introduction presents some factual information about the construction of the New York City subway system and the work of the sandhogs, who were mainly African-Americans and immigrants. A recipe for the jam is included. The illustrator’s signature scratchboard art of heavy black outline and strong acrylic colors adds visual clarity to the stark differences between the settings. The farm scenes are bright and full of lively color. In comparison, the underground scenes are in shades of brown, with the figures of the men lit only by work lights. The Pinkneys have again succeeded in presenting a lesser-known aspect of African-American history as a moving, sensitive story with which modern young readers can identify. (Picture book. 4-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-15-201918-9

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Gulliver/Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2001

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New parents of daughters will eat these up and perhaps pass on the lessons learned.


All the reasons why a daughter needs a mother.

Each spread features an adorable cartoon animal parent-child pair on the recto opposite a rhyming verse: “I’ll always support you in giving your all / in every endeavor, the big and the small, / and be there to catch you in case you should fall. / I hope you believe this is true.” A virtually identical book, Why a Daughter Needs a Dad, publishes simultaneously. Both address standing up for yourself and your values, laughing to ease troubles, being thankful, valuing friendship, persevering and dreaming big, being truthful, thinking through decisions, and being open to differences, among other topics. Though the sentiments/life lessons here and in the companion title are heartfelt and important, there are much better ways to deliver them. These books are likely to go right over children’s heads and developmental levels (especially with the rather advanced vocabulary); their parents are the more likely audience, and for them, the books provide some coaching in what kids need to hear. The two books are largely interchangeable, especially since there are so few references to mom or dad, but one spread in each book reverts to stereotype: Dad balances the two-wheeler, and mom helps with clothing and hair styles. Since the books are separate, it aids in customization for many families.

New parents of daughters will eat these up and perhaps pass on the lessons learned. (Picture book. 4-8, adult)

Pub Date: May 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-6781-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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Sweet, reassuring fun—and a story to fully embrace.


A slug longs for a hug and finds it unexpectedly.

Doug the slug would really like a hug and plods on, seeking affection. But a caterpillar, bug, spider, and worm want no part of hugging a slug. They are just not feeling it (might they feel sluggish?), voicing their disdain in no uncertain terms with expressions like, “Grimy, slippy!” and “Squelchy, slimy!” What’s a slug to do? Undeterred, Doug keeps trying. He meets Gail, a snail with crimson lipstick and hip, red glasses; she happens to be as grimy and squelchy as he is, so he figures she is the hugger of his dreams. The two embark upon a madcap romantic courtship. Alas, Gail also draws the (slimy) line at hugging Doug. Finally, mournful Doug meets the best hugger and the true love of his life, proving there’s someone for everyone. This charmer will have readers rooting for Doug (and perhaps even wanting to hug him). Expressed in simple, jaunty verses that read and scan smoothly, the brief tale revolves around words that mainly rhyme with Doug and slug. Given that the story stretches vocabulary so well with regard to rhyming words, children can be challenged after a read-aloud session to offer up words that rhyme with slug and snail. The colorful and humorous illustrations are lively and cheerful; googly-eyed Doug is, like the other characters, entertaining and expressive. (This book was reviewed digitally.)

Sweet, reassuring fun—and a story to fully embrace. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Dec. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-66590-046-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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