Illustrations: Jon Muth
This compelling tale seemed a good choice to begin the new year, on a site which promotes the joy of books and reading.
Amy Hest brings us a lyrical story of literacy- centred around an African American centenarian and an eight year old boy, both attending school together and making an effort to read.
Set in the morning hours, on the porch, Harry narrates the story. Together they wait for the school bus. They share candies, hug their knees in the chill and watch the leaves falling. The fact that Mr Baker was a famous drummer with a jazz band hardly affects Harry and he prizes his friendship with the old man a lot more.
The prose highlighting young Harry's loving observations of Mr. Baker's old fashioned attire- his suspenders, laces and crumpled shoes, baggy trousers, make you look at the pictures once again. The pages with Mrs Baker reveals a romance that has only strengthened with age.
Together the boy and the man board the bus and share a seat. Each of them faces a difficult lesson in school.
" 'We can do it,' says George after school... his lips sound out the letters. Real slow. But his fingers fly across his knees. Like a big old drum."
"Tappitty-boom, tappitty-boom..." The gnarled fingers have not lost the beat. (This lit up the young reader's face at home.)
The old man is inspiring in his quest for learning. Harry is non judgemental of his friend's inability to read at such an advanced age.
Jon Muth,the illustrator, is a familiar and admired name here at ST and the illustrations in water colour are lovely and amplify the unlikely friendship, the desire to learn and the ability to love life. The cover page, the jazz scene, the old couple dancing, all add a warmth and old world charm to this story.
All in all, an upbeat tale celebrating friendship and the thirst for learning, both of which transcend race and age.