Jan Wahl, author
Jan Wahl is the author of nearly one hundred books for young readers including Pleasant Fieldmouse and The Art Collector. He lives in Toledo, Ohio.
Read more about Jan.
Nicole Wong, illustrator
Nicole Wong is a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design. Her illustrations have been featured in the children's book Why Are You So Sad? and in several magazines and educational books. Nicole, her husband, Dan, and their dog Sable, live in Massachusetts, where they enjoy eating licorice, peanut butter cups, and jelly beans.
Read more about Nicole.
- NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
An act of bigotry gets a sharp and practical response in this message-driven tale. Daniel, a young African-American boy, together with his old-soul aunt, is heading to the penny candy store. They pass through the city neighborhood - a bustling, poor part of town, both inky and colorful in Wong's artwork - and set a nearly too-stagy atmosphere of goodness and rectitude: waving to neighbors, saying they'll see them in church, sharing their short funds. The act of racism they confront at the candy store - something, unseen by the reader, has been scrawled on the sidewalk - is thus isolated, the more so when Daniel's aunt, a figure of righteous authority, tells the Korean shop owner: "Honey, don't pay no nevermind. There's mean, nasty folk in the world, but most are fine as gold." As are Daniel and his aunt: One scrubs the sidewalk while the other invites the shop owner home for pie. Still, the message is simple and effective and the story can be used as a springboard for just such a discussion.
An act of intolerance jolts a child's world in this affecting collaboration between Wahl (Pleasant Fieldmouse) and Wong (Why Are You So Sad?). Daniel, a pint-size urban cowboy in bright purple chaps, can't wait to spend his hard-earned allowance at Miz Chu's candy store. Accompanied by his doting Aunt Thelma, the boy confidently navigates his multi-ethnic neighborhood - even the dicier blocks where "some houses are boarded up... There are empty lots." After gradually introducing readers to Daniel's landscape, the story's climatic revelation seems all the more shocking: someone has scrawled a slur on the sidewalk outside the candy store. The author wisely never reveals the graffiti's content or perpetrator, although Miz Chu is Taiwanese and her fearful despair points to a racial epithet. Instead the book focuses on the character's steps to make their world feel whole again. Daniel, convinced that a cowboy would "do something," scrubs the words away with soap and water. Wahl beautifully captures the voice and psychological tumult of the young African-American narrator, while Wong's muted palette, careful ink detailing and emotionally astute characterizations serve as the story's anchors. The team doesn't offer any easy, uplifting answers to bigotry, but the modest acts of kindness (Miz Chu refuses payment for Daniel's candy, Aunt Thelma invites the storekeeper home for sweet potato pie) feel both authentic and heartening.
School Library Journal
Daniel, an African-American boy dressed as a cowboy, and his aunt are off to do some shopping, including a visit to his favorite place, the Candy Shop. He describes the urban neighborhood they pass through to get to the stores: "Men sit on porches. Some houses are boarded up. We walk faster. There are empty lots." When they finally get to their destination, they find a crowd gathered and the Taiwanese owner, Miz Chu, in tears. Someone has written hateful words on the sidewalk in front of her shop. Daniel desperately wants to help and so he takes a bucket and brush and scrubs away those "dumb words." Wong's detailed, mixed-media illustrations capture the cityscape and the people who inhabit it. Wahl's story shows the love and caring that bind good people together. Aunt Thelma tells the upset woman, "...don't pay no never mind. There's mean, nasty folk in the world, but most are fine as gold." Like the characters in Eve Bunting's Smoky Night (Harcourt, 1994) and Christopher Myers's Wings (Scholastic, 2000), Daniel and his aunt help love triumph over hate. This picture book about tolerance will sit proudly on any library shelf.
When a young boy and his aunt discover a crowd staring at words written on the sidewalk outside the candy shop, and a tearful Miz Chu, the Taiwanese owner, they shoo away the crowd, scrub off the words, and offer her their friendship. Without being explicit about the slur, the message of standing up against bigotry is clear and accented with lively illustrations.
Page count: 32
8 x 8