Tag Archives: enslavement

The Escape of Robert Smalls: A Daring Voyage Out of Slavery

Written by: Jehan Jones-Radgowski

Illustrated by: Poppy Kang

For ages: 9-13 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Enslavement, Historical Figure, Historical Events, Abolition, POC-Centric Narratives, Resilience, Strength, Own Voices.

Summary: This book is phenomenal.  Robert Smalls was an enslaved man that was able to hold a job away from the person that enslaved him.  Because of this, he worked on a ship called The Planter during the Civil War and hatched a plan to save himself and many others.  Because Smalls was brave, intelligent, and cunning, he planned to impersonate the captain of The Planter and sail himself, his family, and around two dozen other enslaved people to the North where they would be free.  Robert set out and was able to sneak the large ship past several Confederate forts by carefully studying the actual ship captain’s movements, not raising suspicions of the soldiers stationed.

This book tells about the entire journey Robert Smalls underwent, and how his bravery also brought weapons to the Union army when the ship arrived.  After the story is an Afterword which talks more about enslavement and the Civil War.  I love the language that is used in the book, it is person-first and comprehensive without sounding like a lecture.  It puts forward Robert’s intelligence in carrying out his plan to help himself and others, rather than telling the story from a savior of abolitionist perspective, Robert is in charge of his own story.  There is also a glossary and a list of books that the reader can seek out to learn more, as well as a bibliography and a real photo of Robert!

About the Author & the Illustrator:

0*sEWcmQeqnzW8U7AWJehan Jones-Radgowski is a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. She has lived all over the world, including South Africa, Spain, Venezuela, Ghana, and the Dominican Republic. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Jehan currently lives in Germany with her family.

 

 

 

CTNPT_1258Poppy Kang is a freelance Illustrator and Visual Development Artist based in Los Angeles, California.

Ona Judge Outwits the Washingtons: An Enslaved Woman Fights for Freedom

Written by: Gwendolyn Hooks

Illustrated by: Simone Agoussoye 

For ages: 9-12 years old

Language: English

Topics Covered: Enslavement, Historical Figures, Historical Events, POC-Centric Narratives, Black Culture & Identity, American History. 

Summary: Ona Judge is a woman enslaved by George Washington.  Yes, that George Washington.  Ona is very intelligent, and in moving around with the Washingtons to various cities, she becomes aware that she could be freed and live amongst other free Black individuals.  Ona gets word that she is going to be given as a wedding present to a relative, and knows the time to escape is upon her.  Ona hid on a ship, stowing away to Portsmouth and frees herself.  This book is a story of a strong woman who refused to endure a life of enslavement, even when she was found by associates of Washington, she did not surrender herself and instead led a fulfilling life on her own terms.

Simone Agoussoye is an incredibly talented artist, you should definitely check out her website below!  Our only concern with the style of art in this particular book is that readers may interpret the story as being for younger children.  The cover art is stunning, we wish all of the illustrations were done in that style.  Because of the seriousness of the subject matters covered in the book, and the sophisticated language inside of it, we would love for the illustrations to match it. However, we love this book very much and the story of Ona Judge is one that everybody should be exposed to. 

This book was sent to us by Capstone for consideration in the Best Books of 2019 List put on by the Read With River book club, but all opinions are our own!

About the Author & the Illustrator:

Gwendolyn-BrooksGwendolyn Brooks is one of the most “highly regarded, influential, and widely read poets of 20th-century American poetry. She was a much-honored poet, even in her lifetime, with the distinction of being the first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize. She also was poetry consultant to the Library of Congress—the first Black woman to hold that position—and poet laureate of the State of Illinois. Many of Brooks’s works display a political consciousness, especially those from the 1960s and later, with several of her poems reflecting the civil rights activism of that period. Her body of work gave her, according to critic George E. Kent, “a unique position in American letters. Not only has she combined a strong commitment to racial identity and equality with a mastery of poetic techniques, but she has also managed to bridge the gap between the academic poets of her generation in the 1940s and the young Black militant writers of the 1960s.”

artist_simone_agoussoye_art_480x480Washington, DC born artist, Simone Agoussoye, “has been honing her skills in portrait artistry for the past several years. Always known for her creative depiction of people, Simone blended her portrait skills with new non conventional techniques which has driven her to become more of a contemporary artist.

Simone’s evolution in portrait artistry has allowed her to explore using materials such as broken crushed glass in her portrait work. The use of this material has sharpen her craftsmanship and execution proving that she is very talented and creative having a drive to continue to grow and develop as an artist. Although known for her portrait artistry her subject of paintings vary from animals, to landscape, and abstract art.

As a child and throughout her life Simone received prizes for her artistic ability and creative talent. From a young age she knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up which was an artist. She pursued her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Art Institute of Washington and graduated class of 2011. She is also the recipient of various Awards from Country Fairs and State Competitions.

Simone’s artwork has been showcased at exhibitions in Washington, DC, Baltimore, MD and more including “Artist Evolutions” at the Art Avenue Gallery located at the National Harbor, Oxon Hill, MD. Her artwork is included in numerous private art collections throughout the U.S. and U.K. She has also created many commissioned works of art.”

 

Schomburg: The Man Who Built A Library

Written by: Carole Boston Weatherford

Illustrated by: Eric Velasquez

For ages: 8-12 years old, or a confident reading level.

Language: English

Topics Covered: POC-Centric Narratives, Historical Fiction, Historic Figures, Literacy, Trailblazers, Afro-Puerto Rican Figures, Professional Life, Schomburg Library. 

Summary: This book was sent to us by Candlewick Press, but all opinions are our own!

This book is hefty! It is crammed with information about Arturo Schomburg himself, as well as biographies of some individuals that he gathered books about.  Schomburg was fascinated with Black stories, gathering tales of “his history” to share with the world.  This is an incredibly detailed and well-researched book, it has a plethora of very specific information such as names and dates.  These would be confusing to a very young reader, it’s a lot to keep track of.  However the story can easily be vocally edited to match the listener’s comprehension level, and has fantastic vocabulary.  This is an amazing book about a scholar that changed the world by collecting stories of histories erased maliciously.  Arturo Schomburg went on to curate the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, still open and changing lives today.

About the Schomburg Center from their website:

“Each year, the Schomburg Center presents a number of exhibitions featuring art objects, photographs, documents, published works, and artifacts drawn from its own holdings, as well as resources from other institutions. These exhibitions explore issues and themes in the history and culture of people of African descent throughout the world. The programs and exhibitions are open to everyone, from schoolchildren to senior citizens, and most are available for free, increasing the library’s role as a community center. The Schomburg Center’s Traveling Exhibitions program makes exhibits on themes such as the black press, the anti-apartheid movement, black photographers, black theatre, and voluntary black migration available to institutions nationally and internationally. The Schomburg Center offers Summer Institutes for teachers, year-round teachers’ forums, and workshops on black history and culture. It also produces and disseminates curriculum guides, exhibition portfolios, and audiovisual materials on related themes.

Scholars-in-Residence Program, established in 1986, provides long-term fellowship support for research projects which draw heavily on the Center’s collections and resources.

The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is part of The New York Public Library, which consists of four major research libraries and 88 branch libraries located in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Considered one of the world’s greatest libraries, The New York Public Library is the only facility of its kind, with both world-class research and circulating collections that are free and open to the general public. As it enters its second century of service, The New York Public Library continues to grow and adapt to meet the needs of its millions of users worldwide.

The Center provides access to and professional reference assistance in the use of its collections to the scholarly community and the general public through five research divisions, each managing materials in specific formats but with broad subject focus. The Center’s collections include art objects, audio and video tapes, books, manuscripts, motion picture films, newspapers, periodicals, photographs, prints, recorded music discs, and sheet music.”

Arturo Schomburg is a man that deserves to be immortalized, and this book is a fantastic way to open the doors to knowledge for young readers.  We highly recommend this book!

About the Author & the Illustrator:

carolebostonweatherford-259x300-2Carole Boston Weatherford is Baltimore-born and -raised! Carole composed her first poem in first grade and dictated the verse to her mother on the ride home from school. Her father, a high school printing teacher, printed some of her early poems on index cards. Since her literary debut with Juneteenth Jamboree in 1995, Carole’s books have received three Caldecott Honors, two NAACP Image Awards, an SCBWI Golden Kite Award, a Coretta Scott King Author Honor and many other honors.

For career achievements, Carole received the Ragan-Rubin Award from North Carolina English Teachers Association and the North Carolina Literature Award, among the state’s highest civilian honors. She holds an M.A. in publications design from University of Baltimore and an M.F.A. in creative writing from University of North Carolina, Greensboro. She is a Professor of English at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina.

DIGITAL CAMERAIllustrator Eric Velasquez, the son of Afro-Puerto Rican parents, was born in Spanish Harlem and grew up in Harlem. His dual heritage coupled with the experience of living in dual cultures in New York City gives Eric a rich and unique cultural perspective.

As a child, his love for doodling and drawing was strongly encouraged by his mother. From his grandmother he inherited a love of music and from his father he developed a love of film. Growing up in this setting, Eric says, “Becoming an artist was a natural choice for me. I have never thought of being anything else.”

Eric attended the High School of Art and Design and earned his BFA from the School of Visual Arts in 1983. In 1984 he completed a year of studies with Harvey Dinnerstein at the Art Student’s League. Eric is a member of the Art Student’s League.

Upon completion of his studies with Mr. Dinnerstein, Eric began his career as a freelance illustrator. Over the next 12 years he completed numerous book jackets and interior illustrations. Such works include Beverly Naidoo’s award-winning “ Journey to Jo’Burg” and its sequel “Chain of Fire;” The complete series of “Encyclopedia Brown;” The complete series of “The Ghost Writers;” “The Apple Classic” series, published by Scholastic Books, “The Terrible Wonderful Telling at Hog Haven; and Gary Soto’s “The Skirt” and its sequel “Off and Running;” as well as the cover of the 1999 Coretta Scott King award winner “Jazmin’s Notebook” by Nikki Grimes.

In 2010 Eric was awarded an NAACP Image award for his work in “Our Children Can Soar” which he collaborated on with 12 notable illustrators of children’s literature. Eric also wrote and illustrated “Grandma’s Records” and its follow up “Grandma’s Gift” which won the 2011 Pura Belpre’ Award for illustration and was also nominated for a 2011 NAACP Image Award. Eric’s latest book “Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library” by Carole Boston Weatherford has gathered rave reviews, and has also won the 2018 Walter Award from the WNDB organization as well as the SCBWI’s The Golden Kite Award and The International Latino Award Honor.

Eric Velasquez lives and works in New York. He teaches book illustration at FIT (The Fashion Institute of Technology) in NYC.

Freedom over me; Eleven slaves, their lives and dreams brought to life

Written & Illustrated by: Ashley Bryan

For ages: 10-12 years (grades 4-6)

Language: English

Topics Covered: POC-Centric Narratives, Enslavement, Enslaved People, Historical Figures, Historical Events, Poetry, Historic Narratives, Narratives of Enslavement. 

Summary: This book is comprised of poems telling the stories of 11 enslaved people.  Records of these individuals were found in a historical document owned by the author himself, who developed free verse poetry and personal details of the people who were merely listed with their price on a document.

In Athelia’s poem, the last stanza reads “As slaves, we do what our owners expect and demand of us. As human beings, our real lives are our precious secret.” Bryan brings to life the harsh realities of enslaved life in a way that humanizes and reveals the multi-faceted nature of these enslaved peoples.  After a poem that corresponds with each of the people: Peggy, John, Athelia, Betty, Qush, Jane, Stephen, Mulvina, Bacus, Charlotte & Dora;  another poem tells of their dreams.  While their real jobs and dreams are unaccounted for in written historical documents, they are probably not far off from the dreams of many of the millions of enslaved peoples throughout the history of the United States.  America is a country that was founded with and built on the backs of enslaved people.

These poems are beautiful, and have even more beautiful illustrations paired with them. Bryan does a fantastic job memorializing these 11 people that history all but forgot.  We particularly love the colorful illustration of Bacus’ dreams, showing him blacksmithing and singing a song of freedom.

Reflection Questions:

  • Why do you think that personal details of these and other enslaved people weren’t recorded?
  • How can we memorialize the lives lost through enslavement, if we don’t know so many of the people who were enslaved?
  • What other questions do you have about the process of creating poetry based on just a few simple details?
  • Why do you think Ashley Bryan felt the need to not only write these stories, but also make a book about them?
  • How is this helping our current day viewpoint about the lives of enslaved peoples?

About the Author & Illustrator:

ashleyAshley Bryan doesn’t speak his stories, he sings them, fingers snapping, feet tapping, his voice articulating. His entire body is immersed in the tale. Born in 1923, Ashley was raised in the Bronx, NY. At seventeen, he entered the tuition-free Cooper Union School of Art and Engineering, having been denied entry elsewhere because of his race. Encouraged by supportive high school teachers, Ashley was told, “Apply to Cooper Union; they do not see you there.” Admission was based solely on a student’s exam portfolio. Drafted out of art school into the segregated US army at age nineteen, Ashley preserved his humanity throughout World War II by drawing, stowing supplies in his gas mask when necessary. After the war, Ashley completed his Cooper Union degree, studied philosophy and literature at Columbia University on the GI Bill, and then went to Europe on a Fulbright scholarship, seeking to understand why humans choose war. In 1950, renowned cellist, Pablo Casals, agreed to break the vow of silence he had taken after Franco came to power in his native Spain. Ashley was permitted to draw Casals and his fellow musicians during rehearsals in Prades, France, where Casals was in exile. Through the power of Casals’ music sessions, something “broke free” for Ashley: “I found the rhythm in my hand.” Ashley returned to the United States, teaching art at several schools and universities, retiring in the 1980s to Maine’s Cranberry Isles as professor emeritus of Dartmouth College.

Henry’s Freedom Box, A True Story from the Underground Railroad

Written by: Ellen Levine

Illustrated by: Kadir Nelson

For ages: 7 years and up

Language: English

Topics Covered: POC-Centric Narratives, Enslavement, Underground Railroad, Historical  Figures, Historical Fiction, Family, Friendship, Abolition. 

Summary: This book is heart wrenching.  Very little happens in this story that is positive besides gaining freedom, and it gives a very real look at Henry’s life while being enslaved.  There are very mature themes throughout this book, and it should be used in conjunction with classroom talks and discussions about enslavement, freedom, and racism.

Henry is a young enslaved boy when his enslaver falls very ill.  Henry is called to his enslaver’s bedroom and has the tiniest spark of hope that he will be given freedom.  Instead, he is given to his enslaver’s son.  Henry says goodbye to his family, and is sent to work in his new enslaver’s factory.  Henry was good at his job, but the factory owner was very cruel and would poke his enslaved people with a sharp stick or beat them for making mistakes.

Henry is now older than a boy, still working in the factory.  He meets Nancy, who is also enslaved, and they fall in love.  Given permission to marry, they do so and had three children.  Henry and Nancy were lucky in that despite being enslaved by two different people, they were permitted to live together as a family.  One night, Nancy confides to Henry that her enslaver just lost a lot of money and is worried that he will sell their children.  The next day, Henry tries not to be worried about what Nancy had said but cannot shake the feeling.  Henry’s friend James comes into the factory and whispers to Henry that his wife and children have just been sold to another enslaver.  At lunch, he runs downtown just in time to see his wife and children disappearing down the road.  Devastated, he can’t think of anything except how to escape enslavement.  Weeks pass, and Henry comes up with a plan with the help of his friend James and a white abolitionist named Dr. Smith.  Henry will mail himself to freedom in a shipping crate.  Dr. Smith addressed the crate to his friend in Philadelphia, and then Henry burned his hand down to the bone with oil of vitriol as an excuse to stay home from the tobacco factory.  Despite Dr. Smith begging the shipping crew to be careful with the box, it is thrown onto a steamboat and Henry must ride upside down until he is moved again.  He falls asleep and is awoken to loud knocking on the box.  He made it to Philadelphia!

Henry’s 350 mile journey took him around 27 hours, and is one of the most well-known individuals that freed themselves from enslavement using the help of the Underground Railroad.  He never found Nancy and his children, and moved to England in 1850.  Henry was a very intelligent man.  This book was published in 2007 and is a Caldecott Honor Book.  Some of the language could be updated to reflect the switch to ‘enslavement’ rather than ‘slavery’ when describing the period of enslavement.  Levine is a talented author with an interest in social justice, and this is an important story for children to know about when learning about history.  We must acknowledge that she is non-Black and writing about a BIPOC historical figure, but she writes in a way that gives Henry ownership over his own destiny and is an active-doer.  Henry is the one that gets himself to freedom, enlisting the help of an abolitionist rather than waiting for someone to save him.

Reflection Questions:

  • What do you think about Henry?
  • How do you think families felt when they were broken up, like Nancy and Henry were?
  • Why do you think people enslaved others?
  • Abolitionists were crucial in fighting against the white supremacy and enslavement during Henry’s life.  Why do you think these people decided to fight against the system?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

Ellen_levine-210Ellen Levine, whose books for young people were born of a love for teaching and her active espousal of social justice, died on May 26, 2012 of lung cancer. She was 73.

Her 2007 picture book Henry’s Freedom Box (Scholastic), illustrated by Kadir Nelson, was the true story of a slave named Henry “Box” Brown who mailed himself north to freedom in a wooden packing crate. The title received warm critical praise and was named a Caldecott Honor Book. Some of her other well-known publications include I Hate English! (Scholastic), Freedom’s Children: Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Stories (Putnam), and Rachel Carson: A Twentieth-Century Life (Viking). Levine published several nonfiction works for adults as well.

A woman of wide-ranging interests and talents, Levine earned degrees in politics and political science, was an attorney for a public-interest law group after receiving her law degree from New York University in 1979, and was a respected documentary filmmaker, woodcarver and freelance photographer. She also was an adult literacy and ESL tutor and taught courses in writing for children and young adults in Vermont College’s MFA program.

She is survived by her spouse and partner Anne Koedt, also an author and illustrator of children’s books, her sister and brother-in-law Mada Leibman and Burt Liebman, and nieces and nephews.

SITE BIO PHOTO2Kadir Nelson (b. 1974) is an American artist who currently exhibits his artwork in galleries and museums nationwide and abroad. His paintings are in the private and public permanent collections of several notable institutions including the Muskegon Museum of Art, The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the International Olympic Committee, and the US House of Representatives. Nelson has also authored and illustrated several award-winning NYT Best-Selling picture books including, “WE ARE THE SHIP: The Story of Negro League Baseball” and “Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans.” Nelson states, “I feel that art’s highest function is that of a mirror, reflecting the innermost beauty and divinity of the human spirit; and is most effective when it calls the viewer to remember one’s highest self. I choose subject matter that has emotional and spiritual resonance and focuses on the journey of the hero as it relates to the personal and collective stories of people.“

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists

Written by: Mikki Kendall

Illustrated by: A. D’Amico

For ages: YA older teens (mature topics-violence, assault, enslavement, death)

Language: English 

Topics Covered: Activism, Historic Figures, Historical Fiction, Enslavement, Women’s Rights, Suffrage, Women in Politics, Women in Leadership, Assault, Death, Indigenous Voices, POC-Centric Narratives, Marginalized Populations, Modern Black Freedom Struggle, LGBTQ, Black Feminist Thought. 

Summary: Triple A, how much do I love you?  Let me count the ways.  This book is PHENOMENAL. Like, I opened the envelope and immediately got in bed to read it and stayed up over an hour past my bedtime to finish it.  It is That Good.

This book is the definition of fire, it goes hard and I LOVE IT. This book, besides from being beautifully illustrated, does not shy away from the hardship and inequities faced by marginalized populations throughout history.  It is difficult for me to explain the joy that I feel to find a book that centers the experiences of women of color and celebrates their contributions to nearly every movement throughout history.  We’re history buffs here at The Tiny Activist, and I derived incredible excitement from learning so many new names and accomplishments of badass ladies that came before me.  The book is extremely in-depth and well-researched.  The majority of these names I would feel confident in saying aren’t well-known by most of us nowadays, and this is exactly the book we need right now to inspire a new generation of activists and change makers.

This book is absolutely for teens and above, it does not shy away from the ruthlessness that many leaders exemplified in order to clinch their power and leadership especially in a male-dominated world.  The book begins with a global perspective on ancient societies and the rights of women, focuses in on the USA, and then returns for a global look once again.  Nearly every activist movement is given space in this book, and it is nearly 200 pages.  There are only a few movements not mentioned, the Zapatista’s and the Fat Activist movement are two I can think of offhand, but due to the global overview of the book it can still be considered incredibly comprehensive.  Since it is for an older audience, Triple A doesn’t sugarcoat history, especially the inequities faced by marginalized populations.  It emphasizes the unfairness of Enslavement, Jim Crow laws, and various other historical settlements.  There are a few fabulous two-page illustrations showing women of color fighting monsters with names like “Racism” and “Online Harassment” while white women are floating on clouds, protected from having to do the dirty work.  This. Is. What. We Need.  We need critical reflections on public figures, despite the good that they did for humanity, it often came at the expense of more marginalized populations (ex: the racist views that many white women’s suffrage activists held) Indigenous activism is particularly prevalent, a refreshing and glorious part of this book.  CAN YOU TELL I LOVED IT YET?  Listen, I know we say a lot that books are required for every shelf, but this book is the definition of that phrase.  This graphic novel is creating a new standard for books about feminism, history, and badass ladies.

About the Author & the Illustrator:

PJmm2RUhMikki Kendall is a writer, diversity consultant, and occasional feminist who talks a lot about intersectionality, policing, gender, sexual assault, and other current events. Her nonfiction can be found at Time.com, the Guardian, Washington Post, Ebony, Essence, Salon, XoJane, Bustle, Islamic Monthly and a host of other sites.  Her new book Hood Feminism is coming out in February 25th, 2020 and can be preordered here!

Her media appearances include BBC, NPR, Al Jazeera, WVON, WBEZ, TWIB, and Showtime.

Her fiction has been published through Revelator magazine and Torquere Press.

Her comics work can be found in the Swords of Sorrow anthology, the Princeless charity anthology, and in the CCAD anthology of 2016.  She has acted as a diversity consultant for writers of fiction, playwrights, fan conventions, and several organizations.

DAmico-headshot-2019Aster D’Amico is a Queer Illustrator living near Ann Arbor, Michigan, who loves all things tea, historical fashion, and fantasy! She enjoys writing and illustrating comics, which Aster finds to be an incredibly powerful vehicle for storytelling; her main medium of choice is Digital, but also very much loves using watercolor and Ink Wash.

D’Amico graduated with a BFA in Illustration and a minor in Creative Writing from the Columbus College of Art & Design in 2016, and have been freelancing since.

 

 

Before There Was Mozart: The Story of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George

Written by: Lesa Cline-Ransome

Illustrated by: James E. Ransome

For ages: 5-9 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Enslavement, Music, POC-Centric Narratives, Historical Figure, Historic Events, Musician, Activism, Abolition, Racism, Trailblazer.  

Summary: This is an interesting and historic tale of a gifted musician, which begins on a West Indies sugar plantation in 1739.  The plantation owner Guillame-Pierre is awaiting the birth of his first child, an interracial boy birthed by Nanon, one of the Guillame-Pierre’s enslaved women.  There is an underlying message that the plantation owner and Nanon were in love but unable to be together in a traditional capacity throughout the book, which will be discussed later on.  The baby is named Joseph, and contrary to a lot of historic narratives from this time he enjoys a life with a very involved father and no labor.  Joseph is free to play and spend time with his father, as well as a private tutor and music lessons.  Nanon and Joseph lived in the main house with his father, but loved to listen to the music played by the enslaved people who lived in their own quarters.  When Joseph was 9, his father moved himself, Nanon, and Joseph back to France.  Nanon was now a free woman, and had her own apartment in a village outside of Paris while Joseph and his father lived in the city.  This is another clue that Nanon and Joseph’s father were in love, as he financed her move and her life as a free woman in France.  Although Joseph was of noble birth, because he was interracial he was unable to fully assume the title he was born into and instead held Chevalier, which was a noble title but the lowest ranking one available.  He continued to receive high class academic education as well as excelled in many sports, which delighted Guillame-Pierre.  Joseph would visit his mother at her apartment every night and tell her about the things he did, knowing she would be unable to experience them due to the color of her skin.

When Joseph was 21, he decided to fully devote himself to music.  In 1769 he was offered first violin and timekeeper for the les Amateurs orchestra, an extremely high honor.  He created new techniques and elevated the orchestra to new heights, playing for the elite night after night.  He composed 6 operas, and a myriad of other musical pieces.  True to the title of his book, he inspired Mozart to continue with his musical undertakings and the two began to play alternating nights at the concert house.  Joseph eventually met and played for French royalty, and was appointed the Queen’s personal music instructor.  In an Author’s Note in the back, we learn during the French revolution he was falsely accused to misusing public funds and imprisoned, but was released and became an abolition activist.

This book is hefty, with a lot of information on each page.  While the age says suited for 5 years and up, most young readers will need assistance in the form of our good old Zone of Proximal Development.  The reader gets a sense of the privilege Joseph was born into, and how it enabled him to become known worldwide for his enthralling musical abilities.  Joseph was the product of two people in love, unable to be together because of both social stigma and legislation.  This is a fascinating story of a little known historical figure and trailblazer, being the first person of color to perform for royalty in the French palace.  The complexities of Joseph’s social situation can be more easily understood by older readers, but the main points of the story can be understood and enjoyed by readers much younger.  The illustrations by Ransome are in typical fashion, beautiful and evocative.  Highly recommend this book, but definitely needs a read through by the educator beforehand!

 Reflection Questions:

  • Have you ever moved to a new place?
  • What do you think was going through Joseph’s mind when he was on the ship back to France?
  • Why do you think some people are upset by different skin tones?
  • Do you think Joseph wanted his parents to be able to live together?
  • How proud do you think Joseph was when he worked very hard and was given the first violin position because of that hard work?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Why was the West Indies a popular spot for sugar plantations?  Learn about the history, and why Guillame-Pierre would have moved there temporarily to make money before moving back to France.
  • Joseph was a prolific composer.  Listen to some of his music.  What does it make you feel?  Does it sound different than the music you listen to?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

lesa_nola-2Lesa Cline-Ransome grew up in Malden, MA, a suburb just outside of Boston, the daughter of two nurses and the youngest of three. She considers consider herself very lucky to have grown up with a mother who loved to read. Each week Lesa’s Mom would take Lesa with her to the local library so that she could stock up on books. As Lesa grew older she would venture off into the children’s section and gather up her own collection to check out. Through her mother Lesa realized that reading could become a wonderful escape and writing even more so. When her mother gave Lesa a diary as a gift, she first filled the pages with the “very important” details of her life—adventures with her friends, secret crushes and the many ways in which her family drove her crazy. Then Lesa began creating my own stories! Lesa became interested in children’s books the year she married. Her husband, James was working on illustrating his first book which allowed both of them to look at picture books in a new way. When they’d browse books in bookstores, he studied the illustrations, she read the stories. Lesa eventually completed a graduate degree in elementary education and through coursework became truly immersed in children’s literature.

james-e-ransome-1261135The Children’s Book Council named James E. Ransome as one of seventy-five authors and illustrators everyone should know. Currently a member of the Society of Illustrators, Ransome has received both the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration and the IBBY Honor Award for his book, The Creation. He has also received a Coretta Scott King Honor Award for Illustration for Uncle Jed’s Barbershop which was selected as an ALA Notable Book and is currently being shown as a feature on Reading Rainbow. How Many Stars in the Sky?and Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt were also Reading Rainbow selections. PBS’s Storytime featured his book, The Old Dog. Ransome has exhibited works in group and solo shows throughout the country and received The Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance award for his book, The Wagon. In 1999 Let My People Go received the NAACP Image Award for Illustration and Satchel Paige was reviewed in Bank Street College of Education’s “The Best Children’s Books of the Year.” In 2001, James received the Rip Van Winkle Award from the School Library Media Specialists of Southeast New York for the body of his work.  How Animals Saved the People received the SEBA (Southeastern Book Association) Best Book of the Year Award in 2002 and the Vermont Center for the Book chose Visiting Day as one of the top ten diversity books of 2002.  In 2004 James was recognized by the local art association when he received the Dutchess County Executive Arts Award for an Individual Artist.  He has completed several commissioned murals for the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Hemphill Branch Library in Greensboro, NC. He created a historical painting commissioned by a jury for the Paterson, NJ Library and a poster for the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Brown vs the Board of Education.  His traveling Exhibit, Visual Stories has been touring the United States since 2003.  His work is part of both private and public children’s book art collections.