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Sunday, July 29th, 2012

A Multicultural Children’s Book Where Less is More


“The Chalk Doll” by Charlotte Pomerantz and pictures by Frané Lessac

Ages: 4+

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.

© 2012 – 2013, Meera Sriram. All rights reserved.

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Meera Sriram has been reviewing and recommending diverse children’s literature for about ten years now. She loves to pass on a title or an author to a friend (or a stranger, for that matter). Picture books particularly appeal to the inner child in her. She moved to the U.S. at the turn of the millennium from India. After graduate studies and a brief stint as an electrical engineer, she decided to express herself in other creative ways, primarily through writing. She has co-authored four books for children, all published in India. Her writing interests include people and cultures, nature, and life’s everyday moments. She also runs an early literacy program for toddlers and preschoolers in her neighboring communities. She lives in Berkeley, CA, with her husband and two kids. Curling up to read a good book with her children is something she looks forward to every day. She constantly fantasizes about a world with no boundaries over hot chai, to help her stay warm in foggy Northern California. More at

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsFrane Lessac   |  Monday, 30 July 2012 at 8:32 pm

    Thank you for sharing. Still my fav to read aloud.

  2. Commentsranjani   |  Tuesday, 31 July 2012 at 5:20 am

    i like how the author ropes in the interest of the reader by making the child in the story wonder first !
    The book sounds beautiful and your review makes me want to read it.

  3. CommentsMeera Sriram   |  Tuesday, 31 July 2012 at 11:20 am

    Thanks for stopping by, Frane Lessac! You have a very neat set of books to your credit, and I want to read them all, just looking at the book covers! Wish you the very best!
    @Ranjani: Yes, you are right! Thanks! Hope you get a chance to read it! Thanks!

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