Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford

Black History Month

Freedom in Congo Square

Carole Boston Weatherford, Author

R. Gregory Christie, Illustrator

Little Bee Books, Fiction, 2016

Coretta Scott King Honorees

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Slavery, Congo Square, New Orleans, Day of freedom, Celebration, Dance, Music, Culture

Opening: “Mondays, there were hogs to slop, mules to train, and logs to chop. / Salvery was no ways fair. Six more days to Cong Square.”

Book Synopsis:

As slaves in New Orleans, Louisiana, relentlessly toiled in an unjust system, they all counted down the days until Sunday, when at least for half a day they were briefly able to congregate in Congo Square. Here they were free to set up an open market, sing, dance and play music. They were free to forget their cares, their struggles, and their oppression. This poetic, little-known story expresses a humans capacity to find hope and joy in different circumstances and demonstrates how Congo Square was indeed freedom’s heart.

Why I like this book:

Carole Boston Weatherford’s rhyming celebratory text is a chant as readers count down each day until Congo Square day arrives. Excitement builds as slaves work the fields and inside homes until Sunday, their one free day to gather with family and friends and celebrate their heritage and speak their languages. Paired with R. Gregory Christie’s breathtaking illustrations, the book is a ballet of movement and rhythm.

This book is beautiful, lyrically and visually. Both young and old alike will enjoy reading it together. It is also a wonderful introduction to the topic of slavery for young children.

There is an infomative Foreword at the beginning of the book by Freddi Williams Evans, a historian and Congo Square expert. Make sure you check out the history of Congo Park, now located within Louis Armstrong Park in New Orelans. The Louisiana African slaves in the mid-1800s were captured in West and Central West Africa, separated from their families, chained aboard slave ships and brought to America to be sold as property. New Orleans set aside Sunday afternoons so that Africans could come together to celebrate with friends and family.

Resources: There is an Author’s Note at the end of the book.

Carole Boston Weatherford is an award-winning poet and author who wrote her first poem in the first grade and hasn’t stopped since. She has received a Caldecott Honor for Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom and a Coretta Scott King Award Honor for Becoming Billie Holiday, as well as the NAACP’s Image Award. She is currently a professor and director of professional writing at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. You can find more about Carole at her website.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Nelson Mandela – Black History Month

Nelson Mandela9780061783746_p0_v1_s260x420Nelson Mandela

Kadir Nelson, Author and Illustrator

Katherine Tegen Books, Biography, Jan. 2, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes:  Courage, Determination, Equality, Civil Rights,  Racism, Apartheid

Opening: Rolihlahla played barefooted on the grassy hills of Qunu.  He fought boys with sticks and shot birds with slingshots.  The smartest Madiba child of thirteen, he was the only one chosen for school.  His new teacher would not say his Xhosa name.  She called him Nelson instead.” 

Synopsis:  Nelson was nine years old when his father passed.  His mother sent him to live with a powerful tribal chief, where he could continue his studies.  He learned stories from the elders about old Africa, where people lived peacefully, the land was rich and fertile and people raised crops.  The European settlers arrived and everything changed.  Nelson attended school in Johannesburg where he became a lawyer who defended the poor.  The government began to divide the people into three groups — African, Indian and European.  The divisions were deep with Europeans in power, and apartheid was born.   Nelson wanted to win back South Africa for everyone and organized rallies to speak out and fight apartheid.  He became a leader among his people, but an enemy to the South African government.   He was arrested  and put in prison for over 27 years.  South Africa erupted into violence and the world put pressure on the government.  When Nelson was released from prison in 1990, he said “We must forget our terrible past and build a better future for South Africa.  Let us continue to fight for justice and walk the last mile to freedom.”  All South Africans had won their right to vote.  And, they elected Nelson Mandela their president.

What I like about this book:  The first thing you notice is that there is no title on the book.  Kadir Nelson’s larger than life oil  painting shows power, integrity, determination and strength.  It is mesmerizing.   The illustrations throughout the book are exquisite and capture the emotion of this very important time in South Africa’s history.  Because Nelson Mandela was a man of few words, the author tells the story very simply and powerfully in verse.  Kadir Nelson says: “My work is all about healing and giving people a sense of hope and nobility.  I want to show the strength and integrity of the human being and the human spirit.”  And, that he does. You can visit Kadir at his website.

Resources:  There are pages of historical information at the end of the book, with suggested readings.  For teaching resources and activities go to Mandela at 90.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.