By School Library Journal
James Earle ‘Sugar’ Martin’s mother has been dead for six months when this story begins. By her request, he is now living with her brother, a disabled loner. The two of them reside in a one-room shack in the Mississippi Delta and Uncle Free makes his living by fishing the waters of the swamp. He doesn’t speak much, and when he does, he sounds gruff and short. Yet, as time goes by, his guidance is firm, gentle, kind, and patient. The story is loosely based on the childhood experiences of Reverand Owen H. Whitfield, an African-American sharecropper, preacher, and union organizer in Arkansas during the 1930s. At the heart of the story is the fact that Sugar’s mother had taken on extra work to save money specifically for a stained-glass window when the new church is built. When funds fall short, the building committee decides to use the funds to buy bricks instead. Sugar’s keen disappointment and his abiding faith in his mother’s dream eventually cause church members to rethink what is important. Rubright’s sentences are descriptive, yet never overwhelming; paragraphs are kept short, and the pace is swift - all elements that draw in even the most reluctant readers. The book is simple in style and layout, with plenty of white space and a few small black-and-white illustrations. This touching tale of a boy’s commitment to his mother, underscored by the powerful understanding and closeness that develops between him and his uncle, makes this a great first purchase.