After their mother passes away, Retta, Johnny, and Roy don’t have much parenting in their lives. Their dad is a country singer who keeps them well fed but isn’t around much. Older sister Retta takes control, leading her brothers on all sorts of unwise adventures and promising that one day they’ll have money, safety, and a nice home.
Retta is in charge of her two little brothers since her mom died. Her dad sleeps in and writes songs after working nights. School is out and she takes them to swim in a neighbor’s fancy pool. She’s determined that they experience things.
A boy came by the house today, he asked for food. He couldn’t pay anything, but Ma sent him down and gave him biscuits and milk. He offered to work for his meal. Ma sent him out to see Daddy. The boy and Daddy came back late in the afternoon. The boy walked two steps behind, in Daddy’s dust.
“Well, Daddy is going to own that building, ‘cause I’m gonna fly over it and give it to him. Then it won’t matter that he’s not in their old union, or whether he’s colored a half-breed Indian, like they say.”
“Tonight we’re going up to Tar Beach. Mommy is roasting peanuts and frying chicken, and Daddy will bring home a watermelon. Mr. and Mrs. Honey will bring the beer and their old green card table. And then the stars will fall around me, and I will fly to the union building.”
″ ‘Daddy!’ calls Alfie. ‘We forgot to brush my teeth.’ Daddy comes. He has brought a toothbrush and a glass of water. Alfie brushes his teeth. Tonight he brushes them extra carefully. Every tooth gets clean.”
“I don’t have a dad. I lived with my mom when I was little and we got on great but then she got this Monster Gorilla Boyfriend and I hated him and he hated me back and beat me up and so I had to be taken away to a children’s home.”
Solomon decides to work on his dyslexia. Wow, big surprise. His dad might start going to alcoholics meetings. The wondrous teacher leaves because she is so good (after a week or two), that she gets a promotion.
“Hush-a-bye baby, on the tree top,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock;
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall;
Down will come baby, bough, cradle and all.
Hush-a-bye baby, Daddy is near;
Mammy’s a lady, and that’s very clear.”