Verla Kay (Gold Fever and Iron Horses) writes many of her books in what she calls "cryptic rhyme," which is her definition for stories composed in a sort of fill-in-the-gap verse, with lots of room for interpretation. There is little exposition and plenty of action, which, in the case of her new book, <B>Homespun Sarah</B>, is a good thing, since the story is all about getting a new dress.

Nah, it's about much more than that. An author's note details the hardships of life in early 1700s Pennsylvania, when children often slept in front of the fireplace, ate meals standing up, and worked alongside their parents to make almost everything they needed to survive, including their clothing: "A girl would wear her only dress every day for as long as it fit even if it was a year or more."

Enter Sarah and the days of quilts and candlelight, water buckets and wood boxes, cornmeal cakes and washtubs. Sarah tends the baby, dips candles, gathers berries . . . and grows up her ankles show beneath the hem of her dress, and the bodice will no longer lace as it should. What's a girl to do? Father shears a sheep, the wool turns into linsey woolsey on the loom, then, "Homespun fabric/Measure, clip/Needles swing/Scissors snip." Mama measures and sews with Sarah, little sister grins as she becomes the proud owner of Sarah's old dress, and "Spinning, twirling/Dancing toes/Homespun Sarah/All new clothes!" It's a simple story that lends itself to conversation and education. What was it like to live with so little and work so much? What does it mean to live simply? Some of these questions are answered in Ted Rand's watercolors, where we see little sister carrying wood, father furrowing the field, and mother cooking over the stove. Rand's use of small details adds an emotional element the baby is always tethered, literally, to something (or someone) for safety, and the cow's tail continually slaps brother on the head while he is milking. <B>Homespun Sarah</B> is a luminous little story about times gone by and the elemental necessities of living that today we take for granted.


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