Chris Maynard's Reviews > Coming on Home Soon

Coming on Home Soon by Jacqueline Woodson
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Purpose: Historical Fiction (Wide Reading)

Genre: Historical fiction

Format: Picture Book

Age Level: Primary (P): kindergarten-grade 2 (ages 5-7) to Early Intermediate (I): grade 3

Themes: Wartime separation; mother/daughter relationships; longing; hope; poverty; scarcity; rural life

Cultures: African American culture

Read Aloud: Yes

Literary Elements: Strong foreshadowing early in the book when Ada Ruth’s Mama says that she loves her daughter “more than rain”, suggesting that Mama will be gone for a long time; universal theme of longing to see a loved one that extends well beyond war time but to contemporary situations in which parents/children may be separated; a different setting than urban students are used to, that is, life on a farm where things are limited in supply and there is little to do; great interplay of Woodson’s well-executed text and Lewis’ water-colored illustrations, which make the different feelings in the text not only tangible but personal to the reading audience; interesting perspective, not only of that from the home front during WWII but from a young child; symbolism of the warm and soft cat that arrives at Ada Ruth’s door, with the cat representing the young girl’s desire for her Mom to come on home soon.

Awards: Caldecott Honor (2005)

Uses: Coming on Home Soon provides a unique opportunity to explore the separation of family during wartime via a much different perspective than we’re used to: that of a young a girl whose mother has left the Southern United States to work on trains in Chicago during World War II. Its theme about longing for a loved one and retaining hope despite the passage of a long amount of time is something very relatable in modern times and could be used for journaling purposes in the classroom.

My Review:

What stands out in Coming on Home Soon is the strong interplay of author Jacqueline Woodson’s seemingly simple but much more complex text and illustrator E.B. Lewis’ beautiful, watercolor paintings. Just as Woodson writes how the hands of Ada Ruth’s Mama, who is about to go off to Chicago to work on trains during WWII, are “warm and soft,” Lewis’ illustrations take on a comforting, “warm and soft” feel, even though this story is one of uncomfortable longing as it is not known when Mama will come back. For example, Lewis does not outline characters like Ada Ruth, her mother, grandmother and even the orphaned cat with sharp lines; rather, their features are definitive yet subtle, helping carry these ever-present themes of longing and hope in the story. At their best, Lewis’ illustrations bring Woodson’s text to a whole new level for the reader. Consider the simple line in which Woodson writes how “Time passes,” establishing Ada Ruth’s sadness for her mother, who has been gone for a long time. Spanning two pages, Lewis’ related illustration almost swallows Woodson’s two powerful words. A forlorn Ada Ruth is seen lying on the floor and petting the cat on the floor of a large living room that comes to symbolize how daunting and difficult the passage of a great amount of time can be in terms of retaining hope. But that’s the beauty of not only hope but the elegant Coming on Home Soon. Woodson and Lewis combine to provide a sensitive portrayal of what it feels to be a kid separated from a loved parent without sugarcoating the challenges that such situations present or compromising the power of hope.
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