Reviews for Freedom's A-Callin' Me

Booklist Reviews 2012 February #1
The author-illustrator team from We Troubled the Waters (2009) tells a powerful story of slavery and escape. Clear, first-person free verse and unframed paintings unflinchingly show the oppressors' brutality as well as the triumph of those who never give up until they make it to freedom. The scenes begin on a plantation, with a slave picking cotton and planning escape. In a horrific double-page spread, an overseer whips captured runaways and screams, "Never again," but the speaker knows differently: "We'll try try again." The paintings of the Underground Railroad in dark shades of purple and green show looming forest shapes: is a stranger a spy? Sojourner Truth threatens to shoot a hesitating runaway ("either you coming wit' us . . . or you die heah"). And whites are both treacherous trackers and brave abolitionists. There is a whole story in the scene of the runaway in a hole beneath a house, listening to the party above. Unlike many runaway stories, these triumphant words and pictures never downplay the cruelty from which many escaped. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2012 February
African-American tales of triumph

Black History Month is a special period of celebration and commemoration—a time for looking back at the individuals and events that made progress possible. In honor of this special time, BookPage has rounded up a group of new picture books that chronicle some of the highlights of the African-American legacy.

In Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper, Ann Malaspina revisits a thrilling chapter in American sports—the story of the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Born in Albany, Georgia, to impoverished parents, Alice Coachman seems destined to defy gravity. Leaping over tree roots and shooting baskets with towering boys, practicing the high jump with a crossbar made of branches and rags, Alice, as depicted in Eric Velasquez’s dynamic paintings, seems always to be airborne. Her father disapproves of her tomboyish behavior, but when she’s invited to join the Tuskegee Institute’s famous Golden Tigerettes track team, Alice develops skills that take her to the 1948 London Olympics. There she soars farther than she ever imagined, setting a new Olympic high jump record. Malaspina employs a spirited prose style to tell the story of Alice’s extraordinary career.

Proving that knowledge really is power, Lesa Cline-Ransome’s Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass recounts the rise of one of America’s greatest orators. Frederick Douglass spends his early childhood on a Maryland plantation where slaves caught reading are severely punished. When he’s transferred to the home of the Auld family in Baltimore, Frederick gets his first taste of formal education. Kind-hearted Missus Auld gives him lessons in the alphabet, and Frederick is soon obsessed, practicing in secret with a brick and chalk. At the age of 12, he buys his first newspaper and encounters words like “abolition” and “liberty.” Against all odds, Frederick educates himself and—later on, at great risk—his fellow slaves. By unlocking the secrets of language, he arms himself for the future. Featuring beautifully nuanced pictures by the author’s husband, James E. Ransome, this moving book comes with a clear message: Education is the key to success.

With Jazz Age Josephine, Jonah Winter offers an irresistible homage to a groundbreaking performer. Born dirt poor in St. Louis, Missouri, young Josephine Baker spends part of her childhood in the city slums, where she’s taunted by other kids. Using theatrics as a survival tactic—clowning and dancing to hide her hurt—she makes a little money and eventually joins a traveling show as a dancer, but the blues follow. At one point, she’s so broke, a bench in Central Park serves as her bed. At the age of 19, Josephine takes off for Paris, where she finds her artistic footing and gets a taste of what liberation is like. Embracing her race and blossoming as a performer, she hits the heights of fame but never forgets her St. Louis roots. Winter’s blues-inflected writing style is perfectly complemented by Marjorie Priceman’s bright, impressionistic visuals. Brimming with infectious energy, Winter’s book is a showstopper from start to finish.

Showing how team spirit in sports helped break down racial barriers, Chris Crowe’s Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America’s Game is a wonderful depiction of the brotherhood of baseball. It’s the fall of 1948, and the city of Cleveland is humming with anticipation for game four of the World Series—a contest between the city’s own Indians and the Boston Braves. An African-American boy named Homer narrates the events of the big day, as he and his parents gather around the radio to listen to the game. Homer’s hero, Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League, will be stepping up to the plate. When Doby hits a home run in the third inning, he makes history, becoming the first African-American ballplayer to do so in the World Series. Mike Benny depicts Homer’s wide-eyed excitement through luminous illustrations, while Crowe seamlessly weaves facts and stats from the actual game into the storyline.

Ntozake Shange is a beloved African-American playwright, poet and novelist. With Freedom’s
a-Callin’ Me
, she delivers a timeless collection of verse inspired by the Underground Railroad—dramatic and impassioned poems about slaves dreaming of escape, the white folks who help them and the trackers who trail them. Shange writes with wonderful authenticity and an ear for syntax, conjuring up a group of unforgettable narrators who experience hope, danger and loss on the road to a better life. The book’s title poem eloquently describes one man’s plan to flee, to “mix myself way low in the cotton . . . wind myself like a snake / till ah can swim ’cross the stream.” The poems are filled with arresting imagery—slave hunters leading ferocious hounds, overseers wielding their whips—which Rod Brown brings to life in his sensitively rendered paintings. Throughout the book, Shange offers different perspectives and stories to create a multifaceted look at the secret system that changed so many lives. This is a wonderful introduction to an important chapter in African-American history—and to the narrative possibilities of poetry.

Written and illustrated by acclaimed author Shane W. ­Evans, We March is a stirring account of a history-making event as seen through the eyes of one African-American family. On August 28, 1963, more than 250,000 people came together for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an episode forever inscribed on the American memory thanks to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Evans’ tale brings the momentous day down to a personal level, as the family prepares to march, painting signs, praying and joining the procession to the Lincoln Memorial. Evans’ brief, poetic lines have a simple majesty that reflects the significance of the occasion. His vibrantly illustrated story gives readers a sense of what it might have been like to join the crowd taking crucial steps on the road to freedom.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2012 Fall
This collection begins with a man in a cotton field and ends with three newly free African Americans in Canada. Shange's poems are filled with a sense of urgency; most of the paintings are dark, and Brown effectively uses dabs of white to convey a sense of danger (moonlight reflected off the shirt of a runaway, making him visible to trackers, for example).

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2012 #1
The poet and the painter who first paired their talents in 2009 with We Troubled the Waters return with another collection, this one centered on the experiences of slaves seeking freedom. The poems are arranged chronologically, beginning with a man in a cotton field, dreaming of freedom, and ending with three newly free African Americans in Canada posing for a photograph with white abolitionists. Along the way we see and hear several frightened but courageous runaways, always pursued by the trackers and their hound dogs, never sure whom to trust ("he look jus' like mastah / oh but he aint / mastah have him killed / a abolitionist"). Most of the paintings are necessarily dark, as the escapes took place at night, and Brown effectively uses dabs of white to convey a sense of danger -- moonlight reflected off the shirt of a runaway, making him visible to trackers, for example, or light coming through the floorboards under which a man is hiding. Shange's poems, too, are filled with a sense of urgency: "watch now / them trackers shootin at us again / stay low / stay low / ‘nearly there.'" She pays tribute, too, to those who did not make it in her most haunting poem, "The Sacrifice": "we comfort each other / weepin / contemplatin the torturous death of the other... / a peculiar grief on the way / to freedom." kathleen t. horning

Kirkus Reviews 2012 January #1
One slave is the poetic voice for those who toil on a cotton plantation and look to the North Star, following the Underground Railroad to freedom. Shange wrote the poems in response to Brown's paintings and provides a sound stage for not only the many men and women who sought freedom but also those who were fearful of leaving. The dramatic oil paintings open in the stark white of the cotton fields. In the following tableaux, slaves are whipped, run through swamps, barely ahead of trackers and their dogs, and receive help from white abolitionists and Sojourner Truth. One powerful double-page spread shows a runaway hiding under floor boards, with slivers of light coming through. The end of the road finally comes in Michigan, where white snow on ground and trees serves as a beautiful counterpoint to the opening scene. Painter and poet previously collaborated on We Troubled the Waters (2009), and in this volume they have created a focused narrative that is troubling, violent and soul-stirring. In the title poem, the man says "ah may get tired / good Lawd / ah may may be free." Inspirational pairings of art and verse to read and recite in tribute to those who walked that perilous road. (Picture book/poetry. 12 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 November #4

Shange and Brown's (We Troubled the Waters) book of poems about an escaping slave won't be easy for some readers to get through. Whipping, pursuit by bloodhounds ("dogs'll tear your/ muscle right off the bone"), and other horrors haunt the slave and his fellow escapees. Shange uses her formidable gifts to call up the voices of the slave and those he encounters; his words are raw and agonized in some places ("ah jus' can't take it no more," he says, "ah am not some animal to be worked from dawn to dusk/ livin on the entrails of hogs & such") and unbearably poignant in others ("but he's travelin alone," he protests to another escapee about a man they see across the swamp at night, "can't we help him a little bit"). The shadowed figures in Brown's full-bleed spreads are often barely perceptible in the dark. In one striking painting, the slave hides below the floorboards as a dance is held above him; thin lines of golden light fall over his concealed body. When the journey ends, the calm of freedom seems unbelievable. A potent and memorable work. Ages 8-12. Agent: Russell & Volkening. (Jan.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2011 December

Gr 4-8--The team who created We Troubled the Waters (HarperCollins, 2009) now presents a series of poems and paintings that express the hope and frustration of enslaved people trying to navigate the Underground Railroad. Using dialect to convey a Southern cadence, Shange's poems communicate powerful emotions. Fear, resolve, anger, and hope all show up at various times. The book depicts a variety of experiences, from a slave who wants to escape, to a loved one who tries to convince him to stay; a man who changes his mind midway, to others who survive the journey. Along the way, the escapees meet white people who hurt or kill as well as those who help in large and small ways. These poems are a cry from the heart. They express the spirit that compelled people to take desperate measures to find freedom, people who viewed death as preferable to bondage. The expressive, impressionistic paintings capture attention with their bold strokes and vivid coloring. Generally indistinct faces and dramatically posed bodies command the eye. A few graphic images make this book best suited to upper elementary or older readers. This is an excellent resource to use with fictional titles such as Patricia Polacco's January's Sparrow (Philomel, 2009) or Christopher Paul Curtis's Elijah of Buxton (Scholastic, 2007).--Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA

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