The Red Rose Box (Coretta Scott King Author Honor Books)

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9780399237027: The Red Rose Box (Coretta Scott King Author Honor Books)

When Leah's aunt Olivia sends her a red rose box all the way from California for her tenth birthday, she and her younger sister Ruth can hardly imagine what could be inside. Living in dusty Sulphur, Louisiana, the arrival of the box, full of magical things-lipstick, nailpolish, and a 100% silk bedjacket-is about the most exciting thing that has ever happened to Leah and Ruth.

Aunt Olivia has also sent some train tickets for a trip to Los Angeles and freedom, far away from the Jim Crow laws that keep the Southern blacks down. Leah is enchanted by her rich aunt's lifestyle and the California culture. Like the treasures in the box, California is almost too good to be true. But when tragedy forces Leah and Ruth to make Los Angeles their permanent home, the girls are torn by longing for their roots.

Brenda Woods has written an evocative first novel about the importance of remembering your past, even as you move away from it.

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From Publishers Weekly:

Woods's moving first novel opens in sleepy Sulphur, La., in June 1953, when Leah receives a 10th birthday present from her estranged aunt in Los Angeles: a traveling case covered with red roses. The gift holds treasures the likes of which Leah has never seen: costume jewelry, a pink silk bed jacket ("like what rich white women wears b'fore bed at night," her grandmother tells Leah and her sister), pink satin slippers, nail polish, lipstick. A letter of apology from Leah's aunt to Leah's mother occasions a visit to L.A. with her mother, grandmother and younger sister, and Leah revels in the luxuries of her aunt's privileged world, a stark contrast to the subsistent lifestyle the child knows. Exposure to the freedom from segregation that exists south of the Mason-Dixon line also makes a dramatic impression on the heroine. After the girls' parents perish in a hurricane and the siblings move into the elegant home of kind Olivia and her husband, the youngsters want for nothing. Yet Leah's thoughts of her parents and past haunt her constantly: "It felt like I was a million miles from Sulphur and crayfish, cotton fields and hand-me-down clothes, a one-room schoolhouse, segregation, and Jim Crow. But I knew one thing. I knew that I would gladly give up this new comfort and freedom to be in my mama's arms, to feel the tenderness in my daddy's touch one more time." Though the repetition of similar reflections occasionally slackens the pace of Woods's narrative, she creates some memorable characters, especially Leah, and probes historical events in a personal context that may open many readers' eyes. Ages 10-up.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal:

Grade 4-6-Leah Hopper and her younger sister, Ruth, live in segregated rural Louisiana in the early 1950s. For her 10th birthday, the older girl receives a traveling case-a "red rose box"-from her mother's wealthy sister. Among other treasures, it contains train tickets for a family visit in Los Angeles. A long-lasting rift between Aunt Olivia and the children's mother is finally mended during the reunion. In L.A. there is no sign of the racial prejudice that the Hoppers are so accustomed to as a black family in the South, and the girls reluctantly return home. Later, during a trip to New York City with Aunt Olivia and Uncle Bill, they feel the same way, and then a hurricane strikes their hometown, killing their parents. With this devastating loss, the sisters realize that riches and comforts cannot substitute for the kind of family life they had. This is a bittersweet story with good descriptions of settings; a skillful use of figurative language; and well-realized, believable characters. Ruth is the embodiment of a sassy eight-year-old and the adults are genuine, loving, and supportive. The one false note is the portrayal of race relations as near perfect outside the South. This story of grief and loss ends on a hopeful note and will appeal to readers.
Bruce Anne Shook, Mendenhall Middle School, Greensboro, NC
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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