LI'L SIS AND UNCLE WILLIE:
A STORY BASED ON THE
LIFE AND PAINTINGS OF
WILLIAM H. JOHNSON.
National Museum of American Art/Smithsonian Institution.
32 pages. $13.95; all ages.
Selecting graphic, vivid paintings from the large collection of black artist William H. Johnson at the National Museum of American Art, Gwen Everett tells his story through the voice and mind of his young niece, Ernestine Margaret Brown, nicknamed "Li'l Sis." Her uncle appears in her life when she is 6 years old, when he returns from world travel and study to the family home in South Carolina. Uncle Willie tells her of childhood memories of working in the neighborhood cotton fields and of life in Harlem.
William Johnson then traveled to Europe to study art and has stayed because "people were friendlier to black people" there. The scrapbook kept by Li'l Sis of letters and postcards and photographs tells the details of the rest of her uncle's life. As she fills the scrapbook, he fills her mind with pride in the accomplishments of blacks and her heart with love for him.
The images of Johnson's paintings convey the events of the 20th century; young readers will want to examine life through his talented vision and older people will remember and reflect. Johnson's name will live on because of his art, and this beautiful book will help spread the joys and sorrows of this important American painter. "The fact of the matter," writes Stanley Crawford about book-learning in this book, "may be that by the time the written words do finally arrive . . . the truth has been sitting around waiting on the edges, in the ditches, by the side of the road, for the longest time."
Mr. Crawford came to northern New Mexico in 1969 as a published novelist and only "stumbled" into farming, but it's clear that he was already at a point in his life where words were not enough; writing had its place, but "better perhaps to stay at home and grow your patch of garlic, and to dream in winter your subterranean dreams . . . of light, of warmth, and of liberation." "A Garlic Testament" is very much about the act of farming -- sowing, watering, fertilizing, tilling, reaping and eventually going market -- but beneath the surface it's a paean to life lived by the seasons.
For this, garlic seems a good metaphor, because it slows the farmer down, being leisurely in maturation. Mr. Crawford, between the lines, gives a new reason to prefer the turtle's way to that of the hare. Members and friends of the Kelling clan seldom seem to die of natural causes, allowing amateur sleuths Sarah Kelling and her husband, Max Bittersohn, plenty of opportunity to track down murderers among Boston's upper crust. In "The Resurrection Man," Charlotte MacLeod's 10th Kelling mystery, longtime family friend George Protheroe is the unfortunate victim; he was stabbed in the chest by a huge spear, apparently during a robbery attempt.
The Protheroes had recently had a pair of valuable candlesticks repaired by Bartolo Arbalest, owner of an elite art restoration business. Max, a specialist in the retrieval of stolen art objects, had learned of Arbalest's firm, and his unusual way of running it; all his artisans live as well as work in the shop, and whenever they go out, they are followed by a bodyguard.
The reason for these precautions? Before Arbalest moved his business to Boston, his employees kept dying off. "Such a string of calamities could hardly be coincidental," remarks Sarah. "It almost makes one wonder whether he's a victim or a villain."
Ms. MacLeod has delivered another good-humored, entertaining whodunit, even if the motive for murder is a tad far-fetched. Still, Sarah and Max are a winning team, and this book should delight fans of the crime-solving couple.