Mildred D. Taylor’s The Gold Cadillac (1980)
Illus. Michael Hays
Dial Books for Young Readers, 1987

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976) won the Newbery in 1977 and it remains Mildred D. Taylor’s best known novel. But the Logan family was actually introduced in her first novella, Song of the Trees and their story continues in The Land, Let the Circle Be Unbroken and The Road to Memphis.

The Gold Cadillac stands alone, but it considers some of the same themes: strength in family and community, and perseverance in the face of prejudice. It is about the same length as Song of the Trees and would make an excellent introduction to this writer’s work. The story is simple but powerful, and the illustrations complement the narrative without overshadowing it.

The story begins happily, with the sisters’ father driving home the gold convertible. They are fit to burst with their excitement and don’t understand why their mother is not pleased. Of course reading this book as an adult, it’s easy to guess at some of her concerns, most of which are shared, to varying degrees by other members of the community.

“Since just about everybody on the block knew everybody else, most folks knew that my mother wouldn’t ride in the Cadillac. Because of that, my father took a lot of good-natured kidding from the men.”

It’s the 1950s: you can bet that most of those men were thinking — good-naturedly or otherwise — that it stood out that The Little Woman resisted on this score.

“My mother got kidded too as the women said if she didn’t ride in that car, maybe some other woman would. And everybody laughed about it and began to bet on who would give in first, my mother or my father.”

If another writer was telling this story, The Gold Cadillac might have simply considered the family tensions surrounding a new purchase.

“But then my father said he was going to drive the car south into Mississippi to visit my grandparents and everybody stopped laughing.”

See, in Mildred D. Taylor’s hands, there’s the story. Black man + Gold Cadillac —> Driving from Ohio to Mississippi.

At the beginning, the sisters are running into the house to pull their mother out to the lawn, all excitement, open-mouthed and animated at the new car’s arrival, and then, at the end, they are sitting close-mouthed, serious, in the back seat. In between, they’ve seen things that have frightened them, things that have made them grow up a little.

This is a slim volume, and the characterization can’t help but be cursory, but the tenets of the story resonate. It was one of the books recommended in Shireen Dodson’s Books for Girls to Grow On and I’ve never been sorry to have read one yet. In fact, this is the 6th of her recommendations that I’ve read this year, bringing my total over the halfway mark.

It’s the only book by Mildred D. Taylor that she’s recommended, but it has reminded me that I’d like to visit the Logan family again too.

Have you read her work?