Review of Just like a Mama

Just like a Mama
by Alice Faye Duncan; illus. by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow
Preschool, Primary    Millner/Simon    32 pp.
1/20    978-1-5344-6183-3    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-6184-0    $10.99

An homage to all the African American women who are mothering children not biologically their own. Carol Olivia Clementine lives with Mama Rose because “Mommy and Daddy live miles away.” She offers no explanation for why she doesn’t live with her parents, but this reflects reality since children don’t always know or understand why that might be the case. Though she misses her mother and father, Carol doesn’t focus on what she lacks but instead emphasizes the richness of her life with Mama Rose, who does things “just like a Mama.” This stylish woman gives Carol a bike for her sixth birthday, then shows her how to ride it; teaches Carol to tell time, play basketball, and make her own bed. Mama Rose sets boundaries and maintains high expectations for Carol — vegetables before dessert and chores before play — and offers praise when Carol meets those expectations. In bright watercolor, gouache, colored-pencil, and gel pen art, debut illustrator Barlow emphasizes the love in this child’s life through the family portraits on the endpapers and the many details that suggest the closeness between Carol and Mama Rose. Like Jacqueline Woodson’s Our Gracie Aunt and Coming On Home Soon (rev. 9/04), Duncan’s story sheds positive light on nontraditional, yet commonplace, families.

From the March/April 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

Dr. Michelle H. Martin
Dr. Michelle H. Martin
Dr. Michelle H. Martin is the Beverly Cleary Professor for Children & Youth Services in the Information School at the University of Washington in Seattle.

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