Tag: slavery

Review: Poet by Don Tate

Poet by Don Tate

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate

Released September 1, 2015.

George’s family were slaves in North Carolina. Though he loved words, George was not allowed to learn to read. But he listened when the white children did their ABCs and then got himself an old spelling book along with a book from his mother and taught himself how to read. He read everything that he could find, but loved poems most of all. He spent his workdays composing poems in his head, though he didn’t know how to write them down. Soon after, his family was split apart and he was sent to live on another farm. He worked in the fields and was sent to Chapel Hill to sell fruit and vegetables to the students. While there, he started to share his poetry aloud. The students loved his words and helped him by giving him more books to read and paying him to write poems for them. He was also taught to write his poems down and soon had his writing published in newspapers. George could then negotiate with his master to pay him for his time away from the farm where he could write. As George created the best life he could while still living a slave, the country was changing and a war for freedom was about to be fought. It was a war that would free George finally and allow him to continue writing but this time a free man.

Tate captures the life and times of this remarkable man with a tone of wonder at times. What Horton managed to do in his lifetime under slavery is amazing and a sign of the quality of the words he wielded so well. As readers watch Horton grow up and then fight for his freedom in his own way, with words, they will be devastated when he continues to be a slave despite his best efforts. Even the work of others on his behalf could not get him free.

Tate’s illustrations are exceptional. One can see the yearning for education on Horton’s face as he watches the white children learn to read. Tate also makes sure that Horton’s image shines on the page. He is regularly lit from outside lights of candles and the sun, creating a light around him. The illustrations also show North Carolina in the mid-1800s and Chapel Hill in particular. Tate also incorporates some of Horton’s poems into the illustrations, allowing them to flow past visually.

This is a choice nonfiction picture book that shows the strength of one man, his intelligence and the power of his words. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Peachtree Publishers and Netgalley.

Review: My Name Is Truth by Ann Turner

my name is truth

My Name Is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth by Ann Turner, illustrated by James Ransome

Told in her own voice, this picture book biography captures the childhood and emergence of Sojourner Truth as an orator and activist. The first pages of the book show the horror of slavery, the loss of family members when they are sold away, and the damage of loss, grief, battery and ownership. Then with her baby in her arms, Sojourner runs away, finding shelter. She eventually fought to get her son back with her, and finding her voice. Moving to New York City, she gains her new name of Sojourner Truth and begins to speak out. From wagon backs to formal lectures and then in print, her words travel and help destroy the institution of slavery across the nation.

Turner weaves Truth’s words into the text, creating poetry that is fiery and honest and burns with indignation about slavery. Using her own voice to narrate the story is a great decision, allowing readers to really see what has built the passion upon which Sojourner Truth draws again and again. The horrors of the loss of twelve members of her family never leaves her and it never leaves the book, as it begins and ends with that focus. The entire book is beautifully drawn and historically accurate. Readers can read the author’s note at the end and teachers will appreciate the book being reviewed for accuracy by experts.

Ransome’s illustrations are luscious and lovely. He shows the hard work, grueling labor of slavery and then with one page of running away, Sojourner Truth expresses freedom in the form of a large bed of her very own, something she has never experienced before. It is an image that is powerful and one that children will understand intuitively. As the book progresses, the images grow in power and strength as she comes into her own.

Strong, poetic and filled with history, this picture book biography of Sojourner Truth will be embraced by schools and public libraries alike. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: All Different Now by Angela Johnson

all different now

All Different Now: Juneteenth the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Celebrate the beauty of freedom in this book dedicated to Juneteenth.  Told from the point of view of a young girl, the story is about the first Juneteenth, the day that freedom was first announced for the last of the slaves in the South.  Living in shacks on a plantation in Texas, the day is just another day for the girl and her family and the rest of the slaves.  They worked hard in the hot sun, not knowing that word of their freedom was steadily heading their way.  Then the news arrived and people reacted in different ways, but quickly they pulled their things together and left the plantation behind for freedom.  Now June 19th is celebrated as African American Emancipation Day across the United States.  It’s a joy to have such a beautiful picture book to give to children to explain Juneteenth and why it means so much.

Johnson manages somehow to show slavery in all of its bone-grinding hard work and lack of freedom but also infuse it with moments of beauty, like waking to the scent of honeysuckle.  Her words are poetry on the page, spare and important, speaking volumes in only a few phrases.  The book ends with a timeline of important events and a glossary of relevant terms, making this a very useful book as well as lovely.

Lewis’ illustrations are beautiful.  He plays with light and dark on the page, allowing the light of the hot Texas day to fill the tiny shack but also making sure that the barrenness is evident and the poverty.  The book is filled with light, the sky burned to a pale yellow.  Until darkness which has a richness and endlessness that is sumptuous.  There is such hope on these pages, almost achingly so, particularly as freedom is announced and they turn their faces to a new future.

Beautiful and timely, this book will be welcome in library collections across the country as one of the only picture books about this holiday.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Review: Under the Freedom Tree by Susan

under the freedom tree

Under the Freedom Tree by Susan VanHecke, illustrated by London Ladd

Told in free verse, this picture book is the story of how the first contraband camp formed during the Civil War.  It all started with three runaway slaves who escaped across a river to a Union-held fort.  Though the Confederate Army tried to demand their return, the general at the fort declared them “contraband of war” and offered them protection and a place to live.  The three were quickly joined by a flood of people crossing the line into Union territory and they began to build a home for themselves near the fort.  The freedom tree is the Emancipation Oak which stood witness to the events that unfolded, including the Emancipation Proclamation, which set all of the residents of the camp free.

VanHecke’s verse is loose and beautiful.  She captures the danger the slaves faced in crossing the Confederate line, the risks they took asking for shelter, and the clever solution found by the general.  She offers an author’s note in prose to give more historical context to the camp and the Emancipation Oak. 

Ladd’s illustrations are lush and detailed.  His paintings capture the hope of emancipation, the darkness of escape by water and night, and the beauty of the oak.  The illustrations clearly honor the first three men who escaped to the fort, showing them as they wait for the judgment of whether they must return to slavery or not. 

A little-known part of the history of the Civil War, this book in verse pays homage to the courage of the men who created the contraband camp.  Appropriate for ages 6-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

winners curse

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Kestrel refuses to join the military like her father wants her to.  They live on an island conquered by the Valorian army and her father is a general, but Kestel wants to continue playing her music not killing people.   She also doesn’t want to get married, which is her other option in Valerian society.  When in the markets with her best friend one day, Kestrel finds herself at the slave market and then against her better judgment she buys a young man.  Arin is an unusual slave, a gifted blacksmith, he also has a connection to music though he tries to hide it.  The two of them slowly begin to fall in love with one another, though both of their societies forbid it.  But the world is about to twist and turn around them, bringing their love into question, their motives into doubt, and placing their very lives at risk. 

Rutkoski has created a world tinged with magic but not overflowing with it.  While her book has the feel of a light romance, it has much more depth than that.  It is a book that explores questions about slavery, about what victors in a war should be able to take and own, about protection and when that becomes a sort of slavery or jail.  There is romance, definitely, but it is a romance built on unequal footing and even lies. 

This is a society in a precarious state, delicately balanced and written so that  the reader is very aware not only of how uncertain things are but also of the forces at work to destroy that balance.  Rutkoski does a great job of creating a world where the enslaved people had recently lived in the homes where they now work as servants.  The tug and pull of this and their connection to the land is a vital part of the book and makes the world unique and riveting.

The two main characters each have chapters of the book from their points of view.  Kestrel struggles against the constraints of her warrior upbringing, a society that is strict and formal but also bloodthirsty.  Arin has lost everything and much of the story is the reader trying to figure out what and who Arin once was.  Their relationship mirrors the world they are caught in.  It is rebellious, as delicate as blown glass, and yet with a core of strength. 

A stunning cover will have teens finding themselves thrown headlong into a world of corruption, war and slavery but also one of romance and beauty.  Powerful and magnificent, there are no easy answers between these covers but the questions are certainly worthy of exploration. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar Straus Giroux.

Review: Africa Is My Home by Monica Edinger

africa is my home

Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger, illustrated by Robert Byrd

Based on a real person from history, this fictionalized account is told through the eyes of Margru, one of the few children aboard the Amistad.  Due to a famine in Mendeland, West Africa, Margru’s father was forced to pawn her out to feed the rest of the family.  From there, Margru is taken captive and put upon a slave ship with many other people heading for a plantation in the Caribbean.  But on the journey, the captive men rebelled against their captors and took over the ship, attempting to sail it back to Africa.  Deceived by the ship’s navigator, they landed in Long Island, NY and the adults were put on trial.  The children were kept as witnesses to the crimes aboard the ship.  Margru longed for her African homeland but also ended up learning not only to read but graduating from college as a teacher.  This is Margru’s story of fear, bravery, slavery, captivity and freedom.

Edinger beautifully captures this famous moment in history from Margru’s point of view.  The use of the first person perspective makes the book read as easily as fiction, but throughout the reader can also feel the weight of the historical research behind the story.   The use of historical information throughout the book is very helpful and combined with that first person view it is a book that is compelling reading with a heroine who is equally fascinating.

Byrd’s art is stunning.  He uses moves gracefully between historically-accurate images that capture important historical moments to more stylized pictures that flow with lines and dream of Africa.  He starkly contrasts the worlds of the greens of Africa and the cold, formality of the United States. 

Beautifully written and illustrated, this book gives a first-person account of the Amistad, looking beyond the revolt into the trial and what happened to one little girl caught in history.  Appropriate for ages 8-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle

lightning dreamer

The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle

Margarita Engle, award-winning author of verse novels, continues her stories of Cuba.  In this book, she explores the life of Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, also known as Tula, who becomes a revolutionary Cuban poet.  Raised to be married off to save the family financially, Tula even as a young girl relates more closely with slaves and the books she is reading than with girls of her own age and her own social standing.  As she reads more and more, sheltered by both her younger brother and the nuns at the convent, Tula starts to explore revolutionary ideas about freedom for slaves and for women.  In a country that is not free, Tula herself is not free either and is forced to confront an arranged marriage, the brutality of slavery, and find her own voice.

Engle writes verse novels with such a beauty that they are impossible to put down.  Seemingly light confections of verse, they are actually strong, often angry and always powerful.  Here, Engle captures the way that girls are asked to sacrifice themselves for their families, the importance of education for young women, and the loss of self.  She doesn’t shy away from issues of slavery either.  At it’s heart though, this novel is about the power of words to free people, whether that is Tula herself, her brother or a family slave and friend.

Highly recommended, this is another dazzling and compelling novel from a master poet.  Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.