As you read Mississippi Morning, it is very important to notice how Floyd Cooper, the illustrator adds another layer of understanding to the story.
Early in the story, James William hears things from some of his friends. Red tells him what he overhears being said at the store. LeRoy tells him of his own personal experiences. James William ponders all this information, but still is in the dark. He doesn’t know if what he is hearing is true.
Go to the page (5) where he first talks to his Pa about what he hears. Floyd puts James William on a dark background and the father on the light background. They face each other.
Later, after James William discovers the disappointing truth, the father is on the dark background and James William is on the light background. They are each busy doing what they have always done at the store, but they are not looking at each other.
Before the book was published, Floyd said to me, “Ruth, you don’t say what James William does at the end of the story.”
Many people since then have asked me the same question.
When I speak to students about this book, I ask them what they think.
I begin by telling them the same thing I told Floyd, “I don’t know. James William is twelve years old. I don’t know what he will do as he grows up. I know what I hope for him, but I can’t be sure.”
When I ask students, they easily come up with many options of how James William decides to live his life in the future. They come up with positive options and ones they consider to be negative. Each decision comes with consequences.
If you look again at the last picture of James William and his father, you will see that Floyd could not help himself. Do you see the glow around the boy? Floyd, too, hopes that James William makes decisions that are better than the ones his father made.
And then, before you close the book, ask yourself, “When does James William tell a lie?”
And find the one word which tells us that the relationship between James William and his father is forever changed.
Students immediately know, without going back to check, that the lie is told when he tells his Pa who informed him of what is happening in their town. And students sense immediately that the relationship changes after James William sees his Pa early in the morning he calls his Pa “father.”