Title: Coming On Home Soon
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrator: E.B. Lewis
Publication Date: 2005
Audience: 5-8 yrs old (older audiences will also enjoy, and may hear the story on a deeper level)
Summary: Ada Ruth’s mother has gone to Chicago, where women are getting work while the men are at war, and she is left with her Grandmother at home. Each day, they wait for a letter to arrive from Mama. A small distraction, a little black and white kitten, arrives at their doorstep, and even though Grandma tells Ada Ruth not to get attached, they both begin to care for this little creature. There is a gentle sense of urgency, seen through Grandma and Ada Ruth’s search for food and firewood. They need Mama’s paycheck to arrive. But more importantly, they need to hear a word of hope and comfort – that she is “coming on home soon.” Ada Ruth and her Grandmother listen to the reports of the war on the radio, and she prays for the families of the soldiers who will not come home. Finally – a letter from the postman that Mama is coming home! Grandma gets another quilt for the kitten, and the three of them sit by the fire and read her letter over and over again – a message and reminder that hope is alive in a dark, cold world. This story deals tenderly with the hardship of absence of a parent, and the illustrations capture Ada Ruth’s longing perfectly.
Literary elements at work in the story: This picture book is told from the point of view of Ada Ruth, an 8 or 9-year-old girl who is missing her Mama. Her sense of longing comes through as she uses beautiful sensory descriptions of her mother:
“Try hard to remember the way my Mama smelled. Like sugar some days. And some days like sun. Some days like the lye soap that turned her hands yellow, but got the wash real clean.” The kitten in the story comes as a comfort to Ada Ruth, but one more worry for the grandmother, who is already trying to keep her granddaughter warm and fed until Mama can send money from her job in Chicago. Both Ada Ruth and the grandmother are waiting, waiting, and not sure they can make it to the other side of this difficult time, and somehow that tension makes a real plot, in spite of the fact that the story has little “action” in the usual sense of the word.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? This is a story of three generations of women in an African-American family, during World War II. While that is a time period when many women had to step up and earn a living because the men were at war, I imagine that it was even more of a challenge for minorities to find work and support their families. From the context, we see that Ada Ruth and her family are a rural family, and are able to survive with milk from the cow, wood for the stove and a rabbit for the stew. They are, at least during this time, on the poorer end of the economic spectrum, though through the pictures of their home it seems like that they were more well off before the war started.
Theological Conversation Partners: Coming On Home Soon provides a glimpse into how hard it is to wait, to keep up hope, and to have patience, when times are difficult. It might provide a jumping-off place for thinking about the waiting of advent, or the disciples waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit, or even just having hope when things seem very dark or difficult. Children can look for the small things that help us get through difficult waiting, and perhaps see that the kitten was a comfort and distraction for Ada Ruth and her grandmother, as they waited for word from her Mama.
Faith Talk Questions:
- What were some of the ways Ada Ruth remembered her mother? How did those memories help her keep her mother close, even when she was far away?
- What were some of the ways that the grandmother and Ada Ruth stayed busy while they waited?
- How do you think the kitten helped Ada Ruth to wait?
- Looking at the illustrations, where do you see love shown in this book? Where do you see coldness? warmth? How do these elements show the hope that Ada Ruth and her grandmother keep alive?
Thanks to Union Presbyerian Seminary alumna Edye Bender for writing this week’s book review.
Coming on Home Soon by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.