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.

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

The Shortest Day of the Year

Susan Cooper, Author

Carson Ellis, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Poetry, Oct. 22, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 4 and up

Themes: Winter Solstice, Shortest Day, Seasonal Light, Legends, Holiday, Celebrations

Opening: “So the shortest day came, / and the year died…”

Publisher Synopsis:

As the sun set on the shortest day of the year, early people would gather to prepare for the long night ahead. They built fires and lit candles. They played music, bringing their own light to the darkness, while wondering if the sun would ever rise again.

Written for a theatrical production that has become a ritual in itself, Susan Cooper’s poem “The Shortest Day” captures the magic behind the returning of the light, the yearning for traditions that connect us with generations that have gone before — and the hope for peace that we carry into the future.

Richly illustrated by Carson Ellis with a universality that spans the centuries, this beautiful book evokes the joy and community found in the ongoing mystery of life when we celebrate light, thankfulness, and festivity at a time of rebirth. Welcome Yule!

In this seasonal treasure, Newbery Medalist Susan Cooper’s beloved poem heralds the winter solstice, illuminated by Caldecott Honoree Carson Ellis’s strikingly resonant illustrations.
Why I like this book:
This breathtaking and contemplative book begins in silence with Ellis’s gorgeous gouache illustrations imagining how early humans began preparing for the longer nights. There is a pause. On page 5, Cooper’s poem begins, “So the shortest day came…” and draws readers into the seasonal cycles of light and the continuity of life, culminating in the joy of the Yule.
Cooper’s poetic book is for everyone (young and old) and is a non-Christian view of the joyful arrival of the winter solstice worldwide. People of all cultures will  celebrate with song, dance, lights, decorations, and feasts with families and friends. And they will hold a hope for peace in their hearts.
Resource:  Make sure you read the author’s information about the deeper meaning of winter solstice at the end of the story.
The Winter Solstice is Saturday, December 21. You may be interested in participating in the the Global Silent Minute for peace and unity. The time on the East Coast of the US is 4 p.m., 1 p.m. on the West Coast. You can got to the Unity of Silence website to learn more. You don’t need to join anything to participate.
Susan Cooper wrote The Shortest Day for John Langstaff’s Christmas Revels, where it is performed annually accross the country. She is the author of the classic fantasy sequence The Dark Is Rising (which includes the Newbery Medal winner The Grey King) and many other books for children and adults.
Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.
*Review copy provided by the publisher.

The Night Before the Fourth of July by Natasha Wing

The Night Before the Fourth of July

Natasha Wing, Author

Amy Wummer, Illustrator

Grosset & Dunlap, Fiction, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 3-5

Themes: Independence Day, Celebration, Fireworks, Family

Synopsis: It’s the night before the Fourth of July and all across the United States people are getting ready for hot dogs and fireworks. Decked in red, white, and blue, a family heads to a parade, hosts a backyard BBQ with friends and family, dodges an afternoon thundershower, and of course, watches a fireworks show. The Night Before the Fourth of July captures all the fun, excitement, and pride of the best summer holiday!

Natasha Wing brings all the excitement and fun to life in the pages of this celebration of our nation’s history. The rhyming is fun and playful.  Amy Wummer’s illustrations are lively and colorful. This is the perfect book to introduce young children ages 3-5, to our joyful American birthday party, emphasizing family, diversity and tradition. This is the 20th book in “The Night Before…” series. Collect them all!

Resources: What are you going to do on the Fourth of July? Will you dress-up, attend a parade, go to a family picnic, and watch fireworks? Will you wave a flag? Adults will find the book will bring back a flood of  childhood memories they can share with their children.

Natasha Wing is the author of When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s Fight for an American Icon, 2017. She has written nearly 25 books in her “The Night Before…” series which deal with Easter, Christmas, Father’s Day, Preschool, Summer Camp, Kindergarten and many more delightful holidays and celebrations. She was born in Connecticut and now lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. After graduating from Arizona State University, she worked in advertising. It wasn’t until 1991 that she decided to write children’s books. Luckily she sold her first book within six months and has been writing children’s books and articles ever since.  Visit Natasha 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.