From School Library Journal
Grade 5 Up–These 10 literate stories make for great leisure listening and knowing chuckles. Pete Bruce flatters a baker out of a coconut cream pie and a quart of milk; Mingo may or may not have anything smaller than a 100-dollar bill to pay his bills; Frank and Jesse James, or the Howard boys, help an old woman against the KKK-ish Knights of the White Gardenia; and Cake Norris wakes up dead one day–again. Carrilhos eerie black-and-white illustrations, dramatically off-balance, lit by moonlight, and elongated like nightmares, are well-matched with the stories. The tales are variously narrated by boys and girls, even though the authors preface seems to set readers up for a single, female narrator in the persona of McKissack herself. They contain the essence of truth but are fiction from beginning to end, an amalgam of old stories, characters, jokes, setups, and motifs. As such, they have no provenance. Still, it would have helped readers unfamiliar with African-American history to have an authors note helping separate the truth of these lies that allude to Depression-era African-American and Southern traditions. That aside, theyre great fun to read aloud and the tricksters, sharpies, slicksters, and outlaws wink knowingly at the child narrators, and at us foolish humans.–Susan Hepler, formerly at Burgundy Farm Country Day School, Alexandria, VA
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*Starred Review* Gr. 3-5. Like McKissack's award-winning The Dark Thirty
(1992), the nine original tales in this uproarious collection draw on African American oral tradition and blend history and legend with sly humor, creepy horror, villainous characters, and wild farce. McKissack based the stories on those she heard as a child while sitting on her grandparents' porch; now she is passing them on to her grandchildren. Without using dialect, her intimate folk idiom celebrates the storytelling among friends, neighbors, and family as much as the stories themselves. "Some folk believe the story; some don't. You decide for yourself." Is the weaselly gravedigger going to steal a corpse's jewelry, or does he know the woman is really still alive? Can bespectacled Aunt Gran outwit the notorious outlaw Jesse James? In black and white, Carrilho's full-page illustrations--part cartoon, part portrait in silhouette--combine realistic characters with scary monsters. History is always in the background (runaway slaves, segregation cruelty, white-robed Klansmen), and in surprising twists and turns that are true to trickster tradition, the weak and exploited beat powerful oppressors with the best lies ever told. Great for sharing, on the porch and in the classroom. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved