- ISBN-13: 9780689822278
- ISBN-10: 0689822278
- Publisher: Atheneum Books
- Publish Date: January 2002
- Page Count: 40
- Reading Level: Ages 5-10
Helping children understand their history
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."