Blackberries and Cream

Blackberries and CreamBy Leslie Rivver. Green Writers Press, 2015. 207 pages. $24.95/hardcover. Recommended for middle school students.

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Grace, affectionately called Gracie-girl by Ida Bell, her African American nanny, longs for the attention of her mother. The first sentence of this book reaches out and takes the reader by the heart: “When your own momma don’t like you, it’s a sad thing.” Grace Callaway is a ten-year-old girl from Alabama. The year is 1956. Her family is privileged; her older brother, Will, teases her; her father, a college professor, is a blend of poet, singer, and healer; her mother, a social worker, is depressed. Fortunately Grace has Ida Bell, a wise African American woman to comfort her. The reader understands that Ida Bell is Grace’s constant ally and source of strength. She offers words of wisdom and ways to get revenge on Grace’s brother.

The book is written from a ten-year-old child’s perspective. We feel Grace’s longing to please her mother in order to keep her mother from “sinking.” When Grace’s parents decide they must move, Grace is determined not to lose Ida Bell. Leslie Rivver completely captures the thought process of a young child: Grace plans to stay with Ida Bell, no matter what.

The language used in this book brings a smile to my face. The prolific use of simile and metaphor are characteristic of the speech of people from southern states. I truly enjoyed the list of 15 rules for “proper etiquette” at the dinner table that pops up in the middle of the book and reminds us of the Callaways’ social class and expectations.

Blackberries and Cream is a touching tale, as sweet as its title, published by Green Writers Press in Brattleboro, Vt. The mission of this publisher is “to spread a message of hope and renewal through the words and images we publish.” To me, the book feels like a blend of memoir and imagination, as most stories are. Rivver grew up in Alabama, the setting of this book, and she now lives in Vermont. Blackberries and Cream is written from the perspective of a white person, with Ida Bell having little or no depth other than that of an endearing person who loves her charge.

This is an excellent book to read with a middle-school-aged child (grades 4–8). The content offers opportunities to pose and discuss Quaker testimonies. There are moments that are inconsistent with Quaker values. Issues of race and class are hinted at, and invite a deeper discussion.

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