“Time to visit kinfolk,” Aunt Tilley would say to 12-year-old Delana, reaching for the basket behind the sofa. Delana’s African-American family resided in that basket—photographs of aunts and uncles and cousins were brought out to have their stories told and bits of family history absorbed by Delana. But when Aunt Tilley dies and Delana begins to look further into the stories behind these tintypes, “card visits” and portraits, she realizes that Aunt Tilley’s stories weren’t always accurate—things don’t match up. Aunt Tilley had been so protective that Delana had lived a cautious “locked-up life,” always told what to do and how to be, and never learning the true story of the mother and father she has never known.
When Tilley dies, into Delana’s life comes her mother’s close friend, Ambertine, who urges Delana to get some “freedom wings,” to dream a world better than the one she has. While Tilley taught Delana to beware of life, Ambertine encourages her to see the world anew and decide what she wants out of life. Delana studies her pictures, “searching their faces for clues to me,” gradually “bringing some order to the kinfolk” and finding family in the pictures she has had all along, with new ones offered by Albertine and Grandpa.
Tonya Bolden, best known for her award-winning works of nonfiction for children and teens, sets this beautiful, quiet, “shimmershining” novel in 1905 Charleston, West Virginia, a step into the 20th century, yet not so far from slavery days. Much of the novel has to do with the legacy of slavery and Grandpa’s determination to make a place in the world for his family. Delana’s earnest first-person point of view rings true to the spirit and passions of a girl about to turn 13, and Bolden’s photographs from her personal collection help readers to be partners in Delana’s search for family.
Readers who find themselves entranced by Bolden’s photographs might also try Walter Dean Myers’ Here in Harlem and Lois Lowry’s The Silent Boy, both wonderfully wrought volumes that tell stories in words and photographs.