It's hard to resist the exquisite paintings of award-winning illustrator E.B. Lewis. His talents shine anew in this quiet, heartfelt collaboration with Jacqueline Woodson. The creative team who published the ALA Notable Book The Other Side has turned its attention here to a story set during World War II, when Ada Ruth's mama leaves home to take a job in Chicago, washing railroad cars. But the setting is almost secondary to this timeless exploration of the themes of separation, family and love.
It's wintertime, and the cold weather only reinforces Ada Ruth's loneliness after her mother has gone. Her sadness seems almost palpable as she wanders through the quiet, empty rooms of Grandma's rural home or walks through the snow checking on her grandmother's animal traps. "I watch the snow come down fast. Try hard to remember the way my mama smelled. Like sugar some days. And some days like sun. Some days like the lye soap that turned her hands yellow but got the wash real clean. I blink hard, but the tears still try to come."
Besides Grandma, Ada Ruth's only companion is a stray kitten who turns up. It's love at first sight. Her grandmother warns, "Don't go getting attached now, Ada Ruth." But readers won't be surprised to see, as they turn each page, that this little kitten has found itself a new home. In his evocative watercolors, Lewis uses the growing kitten to subtly reflect the passage of time as the young girl waits for a letter from her mother.
At last comes the day Ada Ruth and her grandmother have been waiting for finally the postman stops at their door, bringing good news from mama, "The small black kitten beside us as we read the letter again and again."
In this time of war, separation and loss, Coming on Home Soon is sure to bring comfort to readers young and old.
Deborah Hopkinson's most recent book for children is Dear America: Hear My Sorrow, the Diary of Angela Denoto, A Shirtwaist Worker, New York City, 1909.