Coming On Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson

Coming on Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson

The illustrator dedicated this book “To the men and women at war, far from and home.” For Coming On Home Soon, E. B. Lewis drew photo-realistic illustrations capturing a sad story from the distant past. The narrator “tried hard not to cry” as her mother puts a Sunday dress into a satchel. “Ada Ruth,” she says, “They’re hiring colored women in Chicago since all the men are off fighting in the war.”

It’s a dramatic story that’s handled expertly by both Lewis and author Jacqueline Woodson. Even on the title page Lewis sets the tone, drawing the girl and her grandmother looking sadly through the panes of a snow-colored window. But Woodson’s text has a subtle and powerful poetry. “Hush now. Your mama’s gonna be coming on home soon,” the little girl’s grandmother says.

In the story, that picture has an even sadder context. The girl and her grandmother stare through the window because they’re hoping for a letter from the girl’s mother. “When the postman goes on by without stopping, Grandma says ‘Hush now. Don’t start that crying.’ But her eyes are sad. Like she’s wanting to cry too.”

I love children’s books where the simple statements suggest the small excitements of a new day. (“There is snow this morning. And a small black kitten scratching against our door.”) The grandmother lugs in firewood for the stove, and grumbles that the kitten is ugly. But the little girls curls up by the fireplace and plays with the kitten anyways.

The author writes poetry that’s heartfelt and honest, so she won’t sugarcoat the reality of a radio broadcast about “the battles being fought and all the man who’ve died.” And outside, “the snow keeps falling.” The little girl reminds herself of her mother, and pets her kitten’s warm fur for comfort. There’s a beautiful illustration of the two of them huddled near a tiny yellow light.

To survive, the grandmother hunts possum and rabbit. “Me and Grandma keep walking and the kitten behind us, shivering until Grandma stoops and lifts it into her coat.” But the text is written as though it’s happening in real time. As they walk, “The land goes on and on. Flat sometimes and then climbing up into a hill.”

The snow-covered fields inspire more beautiful illustrations, and the little girl talks about setting off to see the big world someday. And then the mailman arrives with a letter. “Thank you, Lord,” the grandmother whispers, and mother’s handwriting is a pretty cursive. Money falls from the envelope, and the little girl says that the letter’s first line is like a song that you want to keep singing over and over.

“Tell Ada Ruth I’ll be coming on home soon.”

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