What are the qualities of a moving story? Perhaps it is the recognition in our own hearts of certain human weaknesses and strengths; the truths we see in life that transcend the simple boundaries of age or time. Words By Heart … is a remarkable book about a young black girl, Lena Sills, and her family, as they journey from the still repressive South around the turn of the century to the promise of freedom in the West….
Words By Heart is filled with … common-sense wisdom. Lena is repeatedly made to see that she can triumph over her personal misfortunes, until they no longer have the power to keep her down. It is a book filled, too, with country paths and the hot summer sun. Finally, Words By Heart is a story of adventure and learning and the inescapable reality of death, as Lena and her family are threatened by small-town prejudices. There is so much honesty and hope in this delicate tale that one cannot help but be moved by the prophetic words of Lena's father, words he knew by heart: "Something always comes to fill the empty places. Something comes to take the place of what you lose."
Fran Moshos, in a review of "Words by Heart," in The New Republic, Vol. 180, No. 25, June 23, 1979, p. 37.