Bubber Goes to Heaven by Arna Bontemps
(Opie Library)

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Written by Arna Bontemps in the early 1930s, this highly original tale recounts ten-year old Bubber's hunting trip with his Uncle Demus gone awry. Scaling the boughs of a giant tree called Nebuchadnezzar in pursuit of a raccoon, Bubber accidentally breaks a branch and crashes to the ground. The rest of the story is Bubber's dream while lying unconscious on the forest floor. Lifted by the strong arms of a couple of angels, the little Southern boy is flown to Heaven, where he discovers that life is very much the same as on Earth, except that everyone wears long nightgowns and sports wings. Not one to be left behind, Bubber grows wings and struggles to fly, joins Sister Esther's church band, discovers the joys of unlimited free food, and meets one of Heaven's finest. When he finally regains consciousness, he finds himself back in his bed at home, surrounded by Uncle Demus and other anxious members of his family. Yet he could still hear Sister Esther and the youngsters cheering him on, "Keep a-flapping your wings, Bubber, Bubber."
This previously unpublished children's book showcases the full range of Arna Bontemps prodigious talent. The gentle lyricism and delicate humor of the story combine with the Alabama locale, biblical references, folk heritage, and a faithful recreation of the Deep South black dialect to produce a richly personal narrative. Bubber's story, an early predecessor of Bontemps acclaimed children's literary classic --Lonesome Boy--is an honest, memorable picture of black Southern life, recreating its full-blooded vitality, close family ties, strong connection with the land and countryside, deeply ingrained superstitions and religious beliefs. The author also succeeds in subtly relaying the problems and concerns dominating the black experience. The little boy's dream of Heaven is a veiled yearning for a better life, for "the promised land" where all his troubles disappear, justice prevails, everybody has work, children of different races play and sing together, and hard times are gone for good. Elegantly illustrated by Brooklyn-based artist Daniel Minter, Bubber Goes to Heaven is a sensitive, resonant tale in the great tradition of oral storytelling.

About Arna Bontemps

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About the author: Arna Bontemps (1902-1973) was born in Louisiana and grew up in California. He moved to New York City in 1923, and it was there that he met Langston Hughes and other Harlem Renaissance writers. A major African-American poet, Bontemps is also credited with popularizing black folklore and literature through his anthologies and his children's stories. He was a historian, librarian, and teacher at the University of Chicago and Fisk University. About the illustrator: Daniel Minter is originally from a small town in Georgia. He attended the Art Institute of Atlanta, and has been working as an artist in various media. Mr. Minter has exhibited in the United States and abroad. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Published December 10, 1998 by Oxford University Press, USA. 96 pages
Genres: Travel, Action & Adventure, Children's Books, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

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Minter notes that the black Southern dialect, which recalled his own Southern youth, inspired him to create wood-block and linoleum-block prints of black angels, not as individual figures but as stylized characters;

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There he is taken in by Sister Esther (""Except for her wings and nightgown she would have resembled very closely the large black woman whose picture Bubber had seen on boxes of pancake flour"").

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