In many ways, Childtimes is a chronicle of the African-American family, and African-American women in particular, as seen through the eyes of three women. The narration and dialogue of the book reflect African-American culture from just after the Civil War almost to the eve of the Civil Rights movement—a tumultuous time for this group in the United States. A brief section entitled “Procession” describes the origins of the family on the continent of Africa and then traces the procession of great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, and daughters in the United States. The African-American spiritual “Get on Board, Little Children” is quoted following the book’s title page. Immediately, the reader knows that Childtimes has an African-American viewpoint; the cultural interpretation of the stories will come from the African-American heritage of the narrators.
The narrators provide a social and historical framework for their book, as each part begins with a section entitled “Landscape” that serves to orient the reader historically; under this heading, the authors describe several events in African-American history that occurred within the time frame discussed in the corresponding part of the text. The authors include some discussions of racial incidents among their childhood stories, informing the young reader about the daily prejudice and discrimination to which African Americans were routinely subjected during this period. In particular, the women write of the systematic segregation of blacks and whites in the United States—in elementary schools, on buses, at bathrooms, and in the military.
Yet the emphasis in Childtimes is not on racial conflicts but on the interactions and events that build family ties, such as weddings, births, deaths, and vacations. The tales themselves are simple and relaxing in nature. Many of the stories involve common, everyday occurrences—events that may seem insignificant to adults but that may be of vast importance to a child. Warmth, love, family hurts and joys, and the struggles of African-American families in the United States are the true themes of the work.
The tone of the text reveals its roots in oral history, as the young reader senses that the stories are written down as they would be spoken. They have not been edited for grammatical errors, and the distinctive styles...
(The entire section is 563 words.)