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Eloise Greenfield

(b. 1929)


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African American literature

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(b. 1929), author of prize-winning children's books.

Eloise Greenfield was born 17 May 1929, the second oldest of five children, in Parmele, North Carolina, during the early days of the Great Depression. Though money was scarce, Green-field has fond memories of how family and neighbors made her childhood enjoyable. Influenced by her personal childhood memories and experiences, by observations, and by other stories she has read and heard about, Greenfield has created lively, humorous, rhythmic books and stories that are deeply rooted in reality. Her stories are for children ranging in age from prekindergarten to junior high school. One of her books, Honey I Love (1978), which is a collection of love poems, crosses age groups and is enjoyed by kindergartners, teens, and adults. In her stories, Greenfield tries to create what she describes as “word madness,” or that feeling of excitement that one gets when reading (interview by Jean Ross in Contemporary Authors, 1987). To attain this “word madness” Greenfield explains that she tries to “choose and order words that children will celebrate.” She wants children to “celebrate” such issues as family solidarity, relationships, Black heritage, and the joys and turmoils of everyday life.

Familial and platonic relationships are central themes in Greenfield's works. Several stories revolve around her idea that there is no monolithic, typical family and that friendships are crucial to a child's growth and development. Presenting stories with families that are extended, that have single or both parents, and that have experienced divorce and sometimes death, several of Greenfield's works depict families coping with bad and good aspects of life. For example, in Sister (1974) a young girl copes with the death of a parent, and through the help of other family members, she attains the strength she needs to survive this ordeal. Daddy and I (1991) highlights the relationship between father and son and how they enjoy each other's company playing basketball and doing the laundry together. Me and Nessie (1975) is about best friends who want to play with each other all the time. Big Friend, Little Friend (1991) is the story of a child learning from an older friend who then teaches what he has learned to one of his younger friends.

Equally important to Greenfield is the significance of Black history and heritage to Black children. She has created books that provide true and positive portrayals of Black historical figures, heritage, and experiences. Greenfield feels that such portrayals instill in young Black readers a sense of self awareness and confidence that is threatened by superficial, stereotypical, and empty depictions of Blacks in television. Some positive images that Greenfield feels “children needed to meet” are seen in her accessible autobiographies of Rosa Parks, Paul Robeson, and Mary McLeod Bethune.

Greenfield wants her stories to provide “emotional sustenance” for children readers. Her stories tap into those emotions that are created by everyday experiences of playing, death, accidents, and divorce. Her stories help children better understand their emotions as legitimate and common. For instance, in She Come Bringing Me That Little Baby Girl (1974), Kevin must cope with feelings of envy and jealousy brought about by having to share his parents’ love and attention with his new baby sister. Alesia (1981) is one of Greenfield's most poignant and touching stories. It speaks to the courage and strength of a young girl handicapped by a tragic childhood accident. Based on a true story, it shows Alesia's commendable determination to lead a normal life as an adolescent. A collection of poems, Night on Neighborhood Street (1991), deals with everyday life issues of young Black children in urban communities. Night on Neighborhood Street depicts children playing with and missing their friends, confronting and avoiding drug dealers, attending church, entertaining parents, and participating in other typical everyday activities.

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Subjects: Literature.


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