The history of African Americans in this country is not always easy to explain to young children, but a group of books released this year can help kids learn more about this important part of our nation's heritage.
Deborah Hopkinson once again teams up with illustrator James E. Ransome in the marvelous Under the Quilt of Night. Though not a sequel to their phenomenal Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, it certainly complements their first collaboration. The story follows a family of five as they escape slavery. The rhythmic prose and staccato sentences match the darkness of the night and the urgent running feet of the slaves as they are chased by the slavecatchers. The story moves from darkness to light as the reader is introduced to generous abolitionists who risk their lives to help the family find freedom. Ransome's rich blues and greens give life to the darkness, and the painting on the final page fairly erupts in the light of a new day. Though the topic could be frightening to young readers, it is not. The bravery of the abolitionists and the ingenuity of the fleeing family are a comfort to the reader. A very helpful author's note follows the story and gives inspired readers background information for further study.
Last year their book Freedom River was a Coretta Scott King Honor title, and now Doreen Rappaport and artist Bryan Collier have another stunning book to offer. Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a big book with big ideas accessible to just about anyone. In simple, elegant prose, Rappaport tells the story of Martin from his boyhood to his death. She weaves her words with those of Martin Luther King, Jr. Collier's moving watercolor and paper collage art invites the reader to pause, think and reflect on the "big words" on each page. All the familiar images are there: the Montgomery bus boycott, the Jim Crow signs, the March on Washington. The darkness of King's death is told simply: "On the second day there, he was shot. He died. His big words are alive for us today." Collier shows the hope of King's words through a portrait inside church windows and four white candles lighting the darkness. A powerful and inspiring book.
William Miller's Rent Party Jazz bursts to life through the exuberant paintings of artist and first-time children's book illustrator Charlotte Riley-Webb. Miller takes a well-known cultural tradition - rent parties - and shows how the life of one boy, Sonny Comeaux, is changed because of one. Sonny and his mother are about to be evicted because Mrs. Comeaux has lost her job. The young boy wants to drop out of school to raise the rent money, but his mother is firm. "You stay in school and learn everything you can - everything, so things will be better for you." Sonny obeys but is on the threshold of despair when he meets a trumpeter from Mississippi who helps organize the rent party. The joy of jazz, the community of caring neighbors and the thrill of the party all come together in one magical night. Miller's informative afterword tells the history of rent parties and mentions several famous musicians who got their start by playing at them.
From far across the ocean comes another story for children. Though Bintou lives in a West African village, her desires are universal. She wants to have hair like the older girls in her village. Sylviane A. Diouf and Shane W. Evans tell her story in Bintou's Braids. All the older girls and women have beautiful braids, braids with gold coins, braids with beads and braids with barrettes. But Bintou moans, "All I have is four little tufts of hair on my head and I am sad." Through an act of courage, Bintou is allowed a reward. All she wants are braids. Grandma Soukeye arrives and carefully weaves yellow and blue birds into Bintou's hair. Her wide eyes see herself in the mirror and she says, "I am Bintou . . . I am the girl with birds in her hair. The sun follows me and I'm happy." Reading this book made me happy too.
To call Remember the Bridge by Carole Boston Weatherford a collection of poems is to completely underestimate this phenomenal book. Historical photos and art accompany these 29 poems. The art and words together summarize the history of African Americans in a beautiful and moving way. Though some of the poems will work for younger children ("Martin's Letter" or "Soul Food"), the bulk of the poems face head-on some of the most difficult chapters in our country's history. "The Capture" speaks of the loss of freedom and is illustrated with ink sketches of bound slaves being herded through the bush. Familiar historic photos of scarred slaves and slave auctions are even more powerful when juxtaposed with poems about the events. This is an important book, one that begs to be read again and again. The final photo is the stunning view of the Washington Monument at the March on Washington, a literal bridge of humanity focused on the cause of civil rights. "The past is the foundation, the future the next span," Weatherford writes. "We'll bridge the mighty river; brothers, sisters, hand in hand."
Copyright 2002 BookPage Reviews
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2002 Spring
The text is a mix of finely honed biographical narrative and appropriate quotes from King himself, emphasizing the concept that from his youth Martin had sought to inspire others with his words. The essential events of King's life are presented in a straightforward yet moving style. The facts are extended by breathtaking collage illustrations. A chronology and informative notes from author and illustrator are included. Bib. Copyright 2002 Horn Book Guide Reviews
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2002 #1
This is one book you can judge by its cover. The space on the front jacket is entirely filled with a large, inviting portrait of a smiling Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; the usual publication data (title, author, illustrator) are printed on the back. Inside, the text is a mix of Rappaport's finely honed biographical narrative and appropriate quotes from King himself, emphasizing the concept that from his youth Martin had sought to inspire others with his words, as he had heard his father do. The essential and pivotal events of King's life, including the early days of the civil rights movement, the march on Washington, and King's assassination, are presented in a straightforward yet moving style. The facts are extended by Bryan Collier's breathtaking collage illustrations, which dazzle, challenge, and inspire with their repletion of motifs (such as stained-glass windows) and the mixture of symbols and realism (as in the depiction of black Americans carrying a flag as they march for freedom). This exemplary biography of one of the great leaders of the twentieth century will remind another generation of the grandeur of his legacy. With informative forewords from author and illustrator, a chronology, and a selective listing of further readings and websites. m.m.b. Copyright 2001 Horn Book Magazine Reviews
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2001 October #2
This picture-book biography provides an ideal introduction to this leader and his works. Juxtaposing original text with quotes from King's writing and speeches, Rappaport's (Escape from Slavery) narrative offers a pastiche of scenes from King's life, beginning with his childhood experience of seeing "White Only" signs sprinkled throughout his hometown. He questions his mother about their meaning, and she assures him, "You are as good as anyone." Listening to his father preach, the boy asserts that "When I grow up, I'm going to get big words, too." Rappaport also touches upon King's role in the Montgomery bus strike that followed Rosa Park's 1955 arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger and his subsequent efforts as a civil rights crusader. After briefly describing the circumstances of his death, the story concludes, quite abruptly, with the statement, "His big words are alive for us today." The author relies on her subject's own words, and his power, passion and pacifism shine through. Collier's (Uptown) striking watercolor and cut paper collage art feature closely focused, lifelike images of King and other individuals against an inventive montage of patterns and textures. The portraits of King exude his spiritual strength and peaceful visage. In the background of some scenes are intricate recreations of stained glass windows, which, Collier explains in an introductory note, he interprets as a metaphor for King's life. An elegant, understated pictorial biography. Ages 5-9. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2001 October
Gr 3-5-Collier combines his distinctive watercolor-and-collage art with Rappaport's uncluttered text to sum up King's life and work. Each two-page spread begins with a short paragraph about King and his crusade for civil rights, followed by a powerful sample of his own words set in oversized, boldface type. Both portions of the succinct text work together to emphasize the leader's courage, commitment, and, ultimately, sacrifice without sensationalizing his death. King's assassination during the 1968 Memphis garbage strike is summed up in just two short sentences:"On his second day there, he was shot. He died." The book concludes with a reassuring reminder that his words are immortal. Rappaport advises readers to use "Martin Luther King" as the search term to find more than 200 Web sites dedicated to King and the civil rights movement. Both author and illustrator preface the book with brief notes to explain specific aspects of King's life and death that inspired them in their collaboration. The result is a stunning, reverent tribute.-Catherine Threadgill, DeKalb County Public Library, Atlanta, GA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.