Category Archives: Slavery

Sewing Stories by Barbara Herkert

Sewing Stories by Barbara Herkert

Today’s pick for Perfect Picture Book Friday is Harriet Powers’ Journey from Slave to Artist Sewing Stories

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Written by: Barbara Herkert

Illustrated by: Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (October 2015)

Suitable for ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: folk-art, quilting, community, survival, determination, resilience, US history, women’s history, slavery, emancipation, Civil War

 

Brief Synopsis: This story is about the life of Harriet Powers who is not well known, yet whose legacy of early African-American folk art is displayed in the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Even though she lived her early life enslaved and remained poor throughout her adult life, Harriet believed, “You gotta take what you’ve been given and make something out of it.” And that she did.

 

After enslaved women labored in the fields and or made textiles for the plantation, they used their craft to create story quilts. Over time, sewing became a source of pride and income for Harriet. I imagine the craft had to have helped strengthen her community during the dark times of unfathomable oppression while living either enslaved or free.

 

Given the recent discussion about the picture book, A Birthday Cake for George Washington, some question why Sewing Stories has not received the same criticism for “smiling slaves”. In my opinion, this book includes facts in the sidebars that touch upon a shameful part of US history while at the same time weaves a story of hope, resilience, determination, and community, despite the oppression. This author does take liberties in a couple sidebars. In this example she intuits, “For a few daylight hours, they might have felt free.” Although sewing and quilting was done for the master, Harriet and her community made the craft their own. After emancipation she used her skills to eventually earn enough to help buy a small farm. The images of characters smiling shows a universal human emotion. Yes, the enslaved had the ability to feel those same human emotions of joy, pride, and hope too. This story is not only about individual pride, it is representative of the grit and struggle people like Harriet demonstrated.

 

Opening pages:  “See that sweet baby girl lying on a quilt her mama made? What could she be dreaming of?

 

On a plantation near Athens, Georgia, Harriet’s mama worked from rise to set while Harriet slept between the cotton rows.”

 

Why I like this book: I recently had a discussion with a fellow writer about depicting slavery in picture books. She told me her 5-year-old mentioned something about slaves one day. When probed, he said, “They ran away. Brave people helped them run away and they were safe.”

 

In a sense, Harriet ran. She ran toward developing a craft that helped her contribute to her family’s income, create a sense of self-worth, and hope for herself, and her community. At the end of the story, Harriet had to sell one of her quilts after falling on hard times. An art teacher named Jennie Smith purchased it, recorded her story, and kept her promise to exhibit it. Jennie was brave.

 

As writers, we will make mistakes despite our good intentions. But there are many stories that need to be told. For this bright 5-year-old eager to learn, we must continue to create stories that help him understand sensitive and complex topics. And that will take courage.

 

Resources:

 

*School & Library Journal listed other picture books that celebrate African-Americans in the Arts here.

 

*KidLitTV shared Librarian  Scott Woods’ list of diverse books –28 Black Picture Books That Aren’t About Boycotts, Buses or Basketball can be found here.

 

*Lee & Low’s collection of books to celebrate Black History Monty can be found here.

 

*Addressing the topic of slavery in the elementary classroom can be found here.

 

Check out author Susanna’s Hill’s Perfect Picture Book page here.

 

Happy Reading!

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A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families…

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families…

It’s Perfect Picture Book Friday! My pick for today is A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat

a fine desert

Title:  A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat

Written by Emily Jenkins   

Illustrated by: Sophie Blackall

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (January 2015)

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: food history, American history, family, historical genealogy, geography, technology

Brief Synopsis: Follow four families over four centuries make the same blackberry fool dessert. The book opens in 1710 in England and the reader sees the mother and daughter picking the blackberries, beating the cream from their cow with twigs. Fast forward a hundred years to 1810 in South Carolina, then 1910 in Boston and finally to San Diego today.

Opening pages:  “A bit more than three hundred years ago in an English town called Lyme, a girl and her mother picked wild blackberries.

Their hands turned purple with the juice.

The thorns of the berry bushes pricked the fabric of their long skirts.

Why I like this book: As a family historian I spend a great deal of time researching and rummaging through genealogical records.  This book is a delightful and can be used in so many ways to introduce change over four centuries. Kids are introduced to technological advances that affected the daily lives of people. Every hundred years a new kitchen tool is used to make the cream- twigs,  a wire whisk, a rotary beater, and finally an electric mixer that affects the time it takes to prepare it. They also see sociological change through the family units presented. The illustrations show the evolution of the family over four centuries from high society, slave society, to a more middle class society that becomes more inclusive and less formal.

The author and illustrator include notes about their research lagniappe for any teacher or researcher. And of course there’s a recipe for blackberry fool!

Resources: A Fine Dessert Poster and Activities (with CCSS tie-ins) is available on the Random House website here.

For more of today’s book reviews, go to author Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book page.

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Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story of the Underground Railroad

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story of the Underground Railroad
Henry’s Freedom Box
A True Story of the Underground Railroad
 
Written by: Ellen Levine
Illustrated by: Kadir Nelson
Scholastic Press, January 2007, Historical Fiction
Suitable for ages: 7-10
 
Themes/Topics: Biography and Autobiography, Slavery, Underground Railroad,  Abolition, Determination and Perseverance
 
Brief Synopsis: Henry is born a slave one day around 1830 in the state of Virginia. But Henry does not know his birthdate or his age.  As a child, Henry is sold and taken away from his mother and family. Many years later, his wife and young children are also taken away from him and sold. Henry doesn’t know his birthday, but knows one day he wants freedom. Through heartbreak and time Henry finds others who want the same for him and he is able to break free from bondage.
 
Opening pages:  “Henry Brown wasn’t sure how old he was. Henry was a slave. And slaves weren’t allowed to know their birthdays.
 
Henry and his brothers and sisters worked in the big house where the master lived. Henry’s master had been good to Henry and his family.
 
But Henry’s mother knew things could change. “Do you see those leaves blowing in the wind? They are torn from the trees like slave children are torn from their families.”
 
Why I like this book: Freedom. It’s something children desire very early in life. Humans want choice and independence. It’s what Henry wants but he is born in a time when his freedom is not allowed. This Caldecott Honor Book introduces kids to a very complex time in US history through a biography loosely based on a true story of a slave named Henry “Box’’ Brown.  Henry is sold to another master as a young child but tries to make the best of a terrible situation. He marries and has a family of his own and they mean the world to him. Then his wife and children are sold and Henry is devastated. Henry then enlists the help of an abolitionist and together they make a plan to mail Henry through the Underground Railroad to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and freedom. Kadir Nelson’s illustrations are wonderfully supportive of the story. Readers of all ages can identify with Henry when he is accepting of his situation, when he is happy and when he is filled with despair. And all readers will certainly want for Henry what he wants for himself- freedom.
 
Resources:
http://library.echs.edwrds.k12.il.us/book-awards/information-contained-on-pages/bluestem-resources/Henrys%20Freedom%20Box.pdf
http://vimeo.com/20964070
https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/lesson-plan/henrys-freedom-box-lesson-plan
 
henry
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