What Is Given from the Heart is a fitting title for the last picture book written by Patricia C. McKissack, who passed away in 2017. Along with her husband, Fred, McKissack helped to shine a light not only on African American history, but on the ties that bind families and communities together. McKissack’s award-winning books include Mirandy and Brother Wind, a Caldecott Honor- and Coretta Scott King Award-winning novel, and The Dark-Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural, also a Coretta Scott King and Newbery Honor winner.
Generosity of spirit defined McKissack as a writer and a person. And that compassion shines through in this picture book about a widow and her young son, James Otis, who are struggling to survive. When Reverend Dennis announces that 7-year-old Sarah and her mother have lost everything in a fire, James Otis struggles with his mother’s request that he can find “a li’l bit of something” to give the girl. At first, the 9-year-old boy isn’t quite sure what he can bear to part with; the solution he devises makes his mother proud and brings Sarah joy. The story ends when James Otis and his mother receive an unexpected gift themselves—a confirmation that they are also seen and loved by their community.
First-time illustrator April Harrison’s illustrations make this quiet, heartfelt story come alive. Harrison is a fine artist whose work has been featured in museums, galleries and private collections. (Whoopi Goldberg owns one of her paintings!) McKissack would have been delighted by this work, and readers will treasure this special book for a long time to come.