Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book
Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book Using original slave auction and plantation estate documents, Ashley Bryan offers a moving and powerful picture book that contrasts the monetary value of a slave with the priceless value of life experiences and dreams that a slave owner could never take away. Read more...
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Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book
Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book Using original slave auction and plantation estate documents, Ashley Bryan offers a moving and powerful picture book that contrasts the monetary value of a slave with the priceless value of life experiences and dreams that a slave owner could never take away. Imagine being looked up and down and being valued as less than chair. Less than an ox. Less than a dress. Maybe about the same as...a lantern. You, an object. An object to sell. In his gentle yet deeply powerful way, Ashley Bryan goes to the heart of how a slave is given a monetary value by the slave owner, tempering this with the one thing that CAN'T be bought or sold--dreams. Inspired by the actual will of a plantation owner that lists the worth of each and every one of his "workers," Bryan has created collages around that document, and others like it. Through fierce paintings and expansive poetry he imagines and interprets each person's life on the plantation, as well as the life their owner knew nothing about--their dreams and pride in knowing that they were worth far more than an Overseer or Madam ever would guess. Visually epic, and never before done, this stunning picture book is unlike anything you've seen.
- ISBN-13: 9781481456906
- ISBN-10: 1481456903
- Publisher: Atheneum Books
- Publish Date: September 2016
- Page Count: 56
- Reading Level: Ages 8-11
- Dimensions: 11 x 10.1 x 0.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-07-04
- Reviewer: Staff
Using a document from 1828 that lists the value of a U.S. landowner’s 11 slaves, Bryan (Sail Away) creates distinct personalities and voices for each, painting their portraits and imagining their dreams. He starts with the wife of the slave owner, who felt her husband was good to their slaves (“He never hired an overseer”). But it’s quickly clear that “good” slave ownership is an oxymoron: “I work hard—all profit to the estate,” their cook Peggy observes. Bryan shows that the enslaved had secret lives of their own: “Years ago blacksmith Bacus and I/ ‘jumped the broom’—/ the slave custom for marriage. No legal form for slaves.” They cherish their traditions, call each other by their African names (“I am Bisa, ‘Greatly Loved’ ”), dream of escape, and long for freedom. His portraits show the men, women, and children gazing out at readers, the contours of their faces traced as if carved from wood, while strong rhythmic outlines mimic stained glass, echoing the sense of sacred memory. There are few first-person accounts of slaves, and these imagined words will strike a chord with even the youngest readers. Ages 6–10. (Sept.)
A deeply compelling look at life as a slave
“A name. An age. A price. People like you. Like me. For sale!”
This is how Ashley Bryan opens the author’s note of his latest picture book. Years ago, Bryan acquired a collection of documents pertaining to slaves, dating from the 1820s to the 1860s. His inspiration for Freedom Over Me comes from an 1828 document in which 11 slaves were listed for sale by a woman named Mrs. Mary Fairchilds.
No ages are listed in Bryan’s source material, but for the profiles of the 11 slaves that constitute this book, he assigns ages to them, fleshing out their lives via free-verse poems. After opening the book from Mary’s point of view, Bryan brings readers a profile of each slave, followed by another poem about what he or she aspires to and dreams of. Peggy, for instance, is 48 years old, was sold on the block with her mother, was named “Peggy” by the men who took her from Africa and now cooks for the Fairchilds. In “Peggy Dreams,” we read that her parents named her Mariama and that the other slaves call her “Herb Doctor” for the healing root and herb poultices of which she is so knowledgeable.
Bryan brings the slaves’ innermost pain to detailed life in these poems, and the effect is quite moving. The poems are accompanied by brightly colored pen, ink and watercolor portraits of the slaves, many of which look like stained glass.
This is a compelling, powerful view of slavery from a virtuoso of the picture book form.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.