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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

ME and MOMMA and BIG JOHN, written by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by William Low. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $20.00 ages 6 and up

"Momma used to work the factory line, right here in the neighborhood. Now an early-early bus takes her across the bridge into the city, all the way down to the yard where they are cutting stone for the cathedral called Big John. A cathedral is a big, grand, fancy church and Big John is the grandest of them all."

John's mother looks like she has had a hard day of work when she gets home from her first day on the job. She is, after all, a stonecutter:

“She is gray as ashes, from her headscarf to her boots. Even her bouncy beaded earrings have gone dull as dirt.”

When his mother takes the children to the site of the work she is doing, it is a revelation to John. He  knows that all the time she has been working at her new job Momma has only worked on ONE stone! No one will ever know which stone that is when it is placed with all of the others. But, seeing the beauty and grandeur of Saint John the Divine allows him to understand how each piece completed is integral to the finished work. Momma loves her work. She sees herself as an artist. It takes hard work to do your best job.

This story is inspired by one young mother who found worthy work as an apprentice:

"Then, in the 1970s, the dean of the cathedral had a new idea. Young New Yorkers needed jobs. Why not hire them to build Big John? In Europe, stonework was a dying craft. He would bring masters over to teach stonecutting and carving. Their craft would be revived, young people would have paying jobs and learn a skill, and construction would begin again at last."

The apprenticeship program lasted until 2007 when the money ran out...again! The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine remains unfinished; that does little to affect the joy and spiritual peace found within its walls. William Low creates digital images that hum with the light and life of this truly beautiful church.

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