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 King Cake Baby

King Cake Baby51lbtJiI-nL__SX392_BO1,204,203,200_The King Cake Baby

Keila V. Dawson, Author

Vernon Smith, Illustrator

Pelican Publishing Company, Fiction, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: King cakes, Baby, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, Gingerbread boy adaptation

Opening: Once upon a time, an old Creole woman and an old Creole man lived in New Orleans. They wanted to celebrate Kings’ Day on January 6, so the woman decided to make a king cake.

Synopsis:  The old woman makes the dough for her king cake and fills it with a cinnamon-sugar filling and a cream-cheese icing. She forms the dough into an oval shape and places the cake into the oven to bake.  While the cake is baking she makes the green, purple and gold sugar sprinkles for the topping. When she goes to the kitchen drawer to retrieve the king cake baby to put inside the cake, baby jumps out and runs away. She chases the baby, but he taunts her, “No, ma Cherie! You can’t catch me, I’m the King Cake Baby!” This cheeky baby has many close encounters with people in a rollicking chase through the French Quarters on his way to the Mississippi River — until he stops to brag.

Why I like this book:

Keila Dawson has created a lively and entertaining retelling of a favorite tale that introduces children to the unique New Orleans culture and its annual Mardi Gras celebration. With lively Creole characters, skillful rhythm and pacing, fun dialect and repetitive language, children will all be chanting “No,  ma Cherie! You can’t catch me, I’m the King Cake Baby!” It’s a fun rhyme or song that builds suspense throughout the book. Dawson adds her own special twist to her king cake baby tale.

Vernon Smith’s colorful, bold and expressive comic-book-style illustrations will appeal to children as they beg to have the story read just one more time. Both Dawson and Smith capture this humorous tale along with the traditions of New Orleans in their wonderful collaborative effort.

The king cake baby escapes on January 6, the day of the Three Kings, a time when the people of New Orleans are baking and eating king cake at the start of Mardi Gras, which leads up to Lent.

Resources: There is and Author’s Note and an Easy King Cake recipe at the end of the story that you can bake with your children.  This book is also an excellent classroom book for teachers to jump-start conversations about Louisiana, the French and Creole dialects, the residents and their culture and traditions. Visit Keila Dawson at her website, where you will find a free study guide with lessons, activities and crafts.

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 Perfect Picture Books.