“The Chalk Doll” by Charlotte Pomerantz and pictures by Frané Lessac
Don’t we all love talking to our kids about our past, beginning a story with “When I was your age, there was no…” or “In those days, we did not…?” Often, reminiscing is very gratifying. Sometimes I even win the sympathy and admiration of my kids, considering our starkly contrasting childhoods.
Likewise, “The Chalk Doll” is a story about a little girl’s reaction to her mother’s childhood experiences. Rose is sick and her mother is preparing her for a midday nap. While reaching for a teddy bear to cuddle, a curious Rose comes up with many questions.
“Mommy, did you have a bear when you were a little girl in Jamaica?”
“Did you like milk when you were a little girl?”
“Tell me the story of your birthday party.”
To this, Rose’s mother eagerly recounts her childhood days growing up in Jamaica. She tells her about the rag doll she made for herself and about the chalk dolls—the fancier dolls she often stood staring at in store windows. And she recollects her own precious chalk doll, a second-hand one with one arm and a broken nose that her aunt had given her.
Among other things, Mother also narrates details of her seventh birthday when she spent her three pennies on a small cake she “put together” for her five friends. And she tells Rose about the only gift she got—a pink taffeta dress her mom sewed for her, a month later! When Rose wonders about matching shoes, Mother recounts her barefoot days and the fun she and her girlfriends always had crafting high heels from road tar and dried mango pits. Soon, Rose is not just amused and surprised, but almost envious of her mother’s free-spirited joyful days in Jamaica as a child! Rose even decides to make something for herself now, just like her mom did.
The story presented a great opportunity to discuss cash-strapped or middle-class upbringings. I loved how it impresses on kids the idea that “less” is “more” and that nothing is more fun than using creativity and imagination for play!
My kids also looked up Jamaica and the Caribbean islands on a world map. We talked about tropical flora, and the art work gave us a snapshot of life in the Jamaican island. Sun-drenched homes, island window shutters, palms, animals on streets, baskets of fruits and vegetables and striking patterns in bold colors everywhere, were some of the details we relished! The style also seemed familiar. I later realized that another great book we had read almost a year ago called “The Fire Children–A West African Tale,” was also illustrated by Frané Lessac! Interestingly, Charlotte Pomerantz and Frané Lessac have lived on islands, and they both write and illustrate, each with their own distinct styles.