Miz Fannie Mae’s Fine New Easter Hat is set in a small African American community, 25 miles from Meridian, Mississippi. It’s a time when people get their milk delivered to their door every morning, by a milkman who drives a horse and wagon through the town in the early morning hours. It’s a time when folks in the country shop from the Sears catalog instead of Walmart. A time when a woman needs a fine new hat to wear to church on Easter morning.
Easter Hats and Easter Miracles
Fannie Mae’s husband, Hayman, decides to go to the city on Holy Saturday to get his wife a hat. He takes their daughter Tandy with him. Before they leave, Tandy’s mama tells her not to let her daddy spend too much money.
But when he and Tandy find the perfect hat, a hat covered with fruit and flowers, draped with netting, with four tiny eggs, they decide to buy it, even though it is clearly too much money. And when they get home, Fannie Mae won’t try it on. She’ll hardly look at it. She loves it. But it’s too fine, too expensive. She tells Hayman that he needs to return it to the store. He hangs it on the hat rack near the front door.
The next morning, when Tandy gets up, she notices that her daddy’s hat is still on the hat rack, but her mama’s fine new hat is missing. Her daddy wore it when he went out to deliver the milk! When he gets home, he tells Fannie Mae that it can’t be returned, because it’s already been worn.
So they all get dressed for church, and Miz Fannie Mae wears the hat that Hayman and Tandy bought for her.
But that’s not the end of the story!
During the Easter service, a starling flies in through an open window. The starling is intently interested on the eggs that decorate Miz Fannie Mae’s fine new Easter hat. That’s when the miracle happens.
In England in the time of Shakespeare, and before, people wore dark, somber clothing during Lent. But those who could afford it often got bright new clothes for Easter. That custom lasted through the centuries, and came to America. And in America, women who couldn’t afford a new dress for Easter might at least get a fine new hat.
Words, Words, Words
When Miz Fannie Mae’s Fine New Easter Hat was published 20 years ago, picture books generally had more words than they do now. Author Melissa Milich was not shy about using words. The words she gives Tandy are rural and southern and African American. She doesn’t use invented spellings to indicate dialect; doing so would make the book harder for children to read for themselves. The dialect is indicated purely by the choice of words.
And as Tandy chatters, you learn that she is a creative, imaginative, observant child. And through her eyes, the world around her comes to life.
The Illustrator’s Art
Miz Fannie Mae’s Fine New Easter Hat was the first picture book that Yong Chen illustrated. He focused his art on the people in the story, especially on their faces. By making the settings less detailed, he keeps your attention on the people, on their thoughts and their reactions to the events of the story, on their love and on their joy.
Every character is rendered with warmth and affection. It’s truly a beautiful book.
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