Bookworm Sez: ‘The Sweetest Hallelujah’ is well-written

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Bookworm Sez: ‘The Sweetest Hallelujah’ is well-written

“The Sweetest Hallelujah” by Elaine Hussey

c.2013, Harlequin $15.95 / $18.95 Canada 346 pages

Your best friend knows everything she needs to know.

She knows your secrets, and the dreams you hold. She chases away your insecurities, your sorrows are her burdens, your joy is her triumph.

Your best friend knows your heart, and loves you better for it. And in the new book “The Sweetest Hallelujah” by Elaine Hussey, a friendship that starts with a secret ends with a forever bond.

Dead Alice Watkins knew how to send a message to residents of Shakerag, Miss., on the north side of Tupelo.

When something bad was about to happen, everybody knew that Alice sent the odor of barbecue and notes from a blues harmonica around. Now, those things could be blamed on Tiny Jim’s barbecue house and juke joint, it was true, but most folks knew a warning when they smelled one.

And lately, ten-year-old Billie Hughes smelled barbecue a lot.

She tried not to think about it, however, even though she knew Mama was sick. That’s because Billie knew something Alice didn’t: if Billie could find her daddy, he’d fix everything. He was a famous musician in Memphis , and was surely rich. Billie figured he was kind of like Roy Rogers, only black.

Betty Jewel, Billie’s Mama, knew her daughter idolized the father she’d never met. Billie talked all the time about finding him, but Betty Jewel knew that Saint Hughes was no good. He ruined her life and her career. The only thing he’d ever give Billie was his last name.

Ten years after her husband, Joe, died, Cassie Malone still grieved deeply.

Not one day went by without her missing his hugs, his laughter. She couldn’t bear to get rid of his clothes, or the empty crib for the babies they never had. She regretted most of all that they never had children. Three miscarriages still made her ache.

Which is maybe why the ad in the weekly paper caught her eye.

“Desperate,” it said. “Dying woman seeks mother for her child.”

What would make a woman do that? Cassie had to know – though lynchings and Jim Crow laws would make it dangerous to find out. So she left her well-appointed Tupelo house, and stepped right into a secret…

I loved this book, but not for the story itself - which is wonderful and a little reminiscent of a certain Oscar-winning movie, only with a twist. I loved this book, but not for the exceptionally likeable characters. No, I loved “The Sweetest Hallelujah” because of the way author Elaine Hussey has written it.

With words that will make you weep and descriptions that put you directly in the scene, Hussey tells a tale of racism, understanding, and a mother’s love. There’s conflict in here, and maybe a bit of controversy; some Southern hospitality, and a haint that plays a surprisingly large part in the story.

It’s a beautiful novel. That’s all.

If your book group is in need of a great title, give them this one: “The Sweetest Hallelujah.” With that, they have everything they need to know.

“Peppa Pig and the Busy Day at School”

c.2013, Candlewick Press $12.99 / $15.00 Canada 32 pages

Your first few days of going to school are gonna be big.

There’ll be all kinds of kids to meet, and you’ll make some new friends. You’ll see your teacher, and you’ll find your desk and the bathrooms. There’ll be lots to learn, lots to remember, and it’s going to be lots of fun.

Most of all, you’ll be kept very busy. In the new book “Peppa Pig and the Busy Day at School,” you’ll see how much there is to do.

At breakfast one morning, Peppa Pig was very excited. It was Special Talent Day at school, and she had many skills she could choose to share. She was particularly good at jumping rope, singing, and dancing.

When she got to school, her friends were already there: Pedro Pony, Rebecca Rabbit, and Candy Cat had arrived. So did Zoë Zebra and Danny Dog. As they got settled, Madame Gazelle explained that they’d share their Special Talents that afternoon – but first, they had a busy day ahead of them.

To start, the class had to practice counting out loud. And they were very loud.

Then they played an alphabet game, which made them think hard.

Then they pretended to own a store and run a shop. Danny Dog wanted cookies. Peppa offered him a toy telephone instead. Pedro wanted a loaf of bread, but Peppa gave him a dollhouse, and everyone thought that was funny.

The class spent time making art, and Peppa tried to teach George how to paint a flower. George didn’t want to paint a flower, so he painted something else. They had a delicious lunch, and played outside on the playground afterward – although it wasn’t so fun for Peppa, who had trouble with the tire swing. When everyone came inside, it was music time… and then, the event they were all waiting for.

Peppa Pig waited patiently for her turn, but someone else jumped rope. Someone else sang a song. Then someone else danced. Peppa didn’t have one single Special Talent that hadn’t already been done!

Madame Gazelle told Peppa to think. Surely, there was something else that Peppa was good at…wasn’t there?

Remember how nervous you got the night before the first day of school, wondering what would happen and if you’d get a nice teacher? You can soothe those first-day jitters for your child by reading “Peppa Pig and the Busy Day at School.”

Based on the TV program starring Peppa herself, this book takes younger readers through an average day at Peppa’s school, including all the fun things she and her friends learn and play. Because they’re quite different in the picture book world, kids may find the simple, uncomplicated illustrations to be appealing; as a parent, you’ll be happy that this book is great for any kid up through first grade.

So the backpack is packed. The First-Day Outfit is chosen. Now send your child to school with a friend by reading this book first. For your 3-to-7-year-old, “Peppa Pig and the Busy Day at School” makes everything cool.

(The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books.)