28 & Beyond: The Hard-Times Jar

Inspired by the author’s childhood, this tale of a girl longing for a book to call her own warms hearts with its vivid language and beautiful acrylic portraits. In The Hard-Times Jar (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003), written by Ethel Footman Smothers and illustrated by John Holyfield, Emma, the daughter of migrant farm workers, makes up stories and records them on brown paper-bag pages. She hopes to one day save enough from picking applies to purchase a store-bought book. Plans change when she’s sent to school for the first time where she’s introduced to literary wonders — and temptations. The sweet resolution shows Emma that rules must be followed, but sometimes, through a mother’s special understanding, dreams can come true.

Smothers is also the author of picture book, Auntee Edna (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2001), and middle-grade novels,  Down in the Piney Woods (Knopf, 1992) and Moriah’s Pond (Knopf, 1994).

The Buzz on The Hard-Times Jar:

 2003 Chapman Award for Best Classroom Read-Alouds

IRA Notable Books for a Global Society

NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies

“Smothers’s tale movingly attests to the rewards of hard work, honesty and of having dreams.”

– Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

 “When Emma’s migrant family moves from Florida to Pennsylvania for apple picking, she finds herself the only “chocolate-brown” child in her new third-grade classroom. Her initial discomfort is mitigated by the kindness of her teacher and the pleasure of reading books in the classroom library. After Emma owns up to breaking a rule, she receives an unexpected reward. Longer than most picture-book texts, the story provides a convincing portrayal of Emma’s firm grounding within a loving family as well as her powerful affinity for books and stories. In his first picture book, Holyfield contributes an excellent series of graceful, full-page illustrations. With strong composition and sensitive body language, the paintings will draw viewers right into Emma’s world. An inviting picture book with read-aloud potential.”

— Booklist

“Based on the author’s childhood, this inspirational story stands as a tribute to a strong family facing hard times. Emma and her family are migrant workers who follow the crops to make a living. Passionate about books, the girl longs for a store-bought volume, but knows that the few coins her mother saves in a jar are for no-money days. Arriving in Pennsylvania, Emma, her parents, and younger siblings pick apples together, but then Mama tells her that she is to attend school now that she is eight. Nervous because she is the only “chocolate-brown” child in the class, which could not have happened in her still-segregated Florida home, Emma soon discovers the riches of the school library. Desperate to read, she takes two volumes home for the weekend, against the rules. A kind teacher and a firm but understanding mother lead to a happy ending. Filled with descriptive language, the text flows smoothly and it clearly describes Emma’s enthusiasm and fears. The richly textured browns, yellows, and greens of the paintings evoke a warm, orderly, and nonthreatening environment, reinforced by the mother’s long arms reaching out and embracing her children.”

— School Library Journal

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