Reviews for Middle Passage : White Ships Black Cargo


Horn Book Magazine Reviews 1996 #2
In his introduction to this dramatic book, Feelings speaks of the artist as a storyteller and of his decision to use "historical narrative pictures" to capture the passion and the pain of the Middle Passage crossing from Africa to the Americas that took millions of his people into slavery. Through artwork done in pen and ink and tempera, Feelings begins his wordless story with an expansive double-page spread conveying the dignity and peace of a proud people living in their homeland. After this view, the artist plunges into scenes of raids on villages, in which people are surrounded and overpowered by attackers armed with guns, then led away, yoked and roped, in long lines on the punishing march to the sea. There they are held in dungeonlike conditions in slave forts until they can be loaded into the ships that Feelings calls "huge white birds of prey." On the ships, human beings are packed into inhumanly small spaces to maximize the profit from the cargo. Grisly scenes show beatings, rapes, and the crew clearing corpses from the hold to throw to the sharks that followed the boats. In all these harrowing portraits, the white faces of the crew spring from the dark backgrounds like spectral images of evil incarnate. Some pictures show desperate attempts at suicide and mutiny to escape from the brutal slave ships. The final pages, depicting some of the survivors (estimated at one third of all those captured) as they arrive at the slave markets, focus on people still filled with pride and strength, holding their heads high. This long-awaited work surpasses our highest expectations. Tom Feelings's drawings engage eye, mind, and heart as they speak eloquently of the infamy and suffering of the Middle Passage. h.b.z. Copyright 1998 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

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Kirkus Reviews 1995 September
~ ``Illustrated books are a natural extension of [the] African oral tradition'' of storytelling, writes Caldecott Awardwinning artist Tom Feelings. Here, in 64 powerful black-and-white paintingssome of them harshly realistic, others nightmarishly phantasmagoricthis noted artist tells a neglected part of the story of African-American slavery: the cruel journey known as ``the middle passage,'' in which millions, perhaps tens of millions, of Africans died before ever reaching American shores. The soft edges of Feelings's art, the blended grays of his palette, do nothing to mute the violence that permeates these images: the bowed bodies of captured Africans being led away under the whip; rows and rows and rows of bodies crammed side by side, shackled together, in dark, filthy holds beneath deck; the agony of a man remembering a baby viciously murdered. Feelings's purpose here, however, is not vengeful but cathartic. Through remembering and understanding the sources of their continuing pain, he believes that Africans can turn the chains of bondage into ``spiritual links that willingly bind us together now and into the future . . . whether living inside or outside of the continent of Africa.'' Copyright 1999 Kirkus Reviews

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School Library Journal Reviews 1996 February
YA Feelings's art speaks to the soul in this magnificent visual record of the Black Diaspora in the Americas. Clarke provides a concise narrative of the slave trade, and then readers pause at a double-spread image of a man, woman, bird, sun, and land before the pages become horrific. Guns, yokes, chains, whips,knives one can see anger, grief, sadness, pain, and almost hear the screams coming from the captives' open mouths. The crowded holes, ankle chains, branding, rats, and sharks swarming around the ship as bodies are thrown overboard all build, image byimage, to the reality of man's inhumanity to man. White enforcers are depicted more as wisps than as defined persons, while blacks are primarily drawn with sharp definition. The art is rendered in pen-and-ink and tempera on rice paper and printedin tritone (two black inks and one gray, plus a neutral press varnish). The satin feel of the thick, oversized pages; the black endpapers; the gray introductory and end matter; and pure white backgrounds for the journey itself demonstrate the carethat went into the book's production. A powerfully rendered reality that all teens deserve the opportunity to experience. Barbara Hawkins, Oakton High School, Fairfax, VA Copyright 1998 School Library Journal Reviews

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