I received more than one book for Christmas, but one is already a favorite I could use as a mentor text for using factual research to tell a story. It is Heart and Soul, The Story of America and African Americans, by Kadir Nelson, who is not only an accomplished writer, but an extraordinary artist. The story, chapter by chapter with each beginning with an important quote, covers the history from the struggles of slavery to the accomplishment of the Civil Rights Act, ending with a Prologue of the election of President Barack Obama, the country’s first black president. The pages are filled with beautiful full page paintings by the author/illustrator, according to the bookflap, one of our country’s most accomplished, award-winning artists.
The stories in Heart and Soul are told by a kind of ‘everywoman’. Nelson has given her a strong voice that includes quiet words, yet powerful. For example, in the chapter about the great migration, she says: Now, leaving was easier said than done. White folks didn’t exactly want us to go. After all, we worked their fields and paid their rents. If we all upped and left, they would have been in a real fix. So they tried their best to stop us. She goes on to describe the ways that did make it so difficult to move from the south, like being harassed at the train stations.
The woman’s family experiences as well as those of other African-Americans are followed over many years. They are often stories of sadness, but also often end in triumph, even in quiet ways, like the tales of slaves secretly teaching each other to read and write. Walter Dean Myers has written an interesting review in the New York Times, and you can hear another piece about the book on NPR here.
This book can also be a wonderful part of preparation for NCTE’s African American Read-In that can happen any day of the month of February. Although sharing about literature from many cultures should be integrated within the classroom all through the year, this event is a powerful way to focus on African-American literature and to share with the community too.
The friends who gave me this book knew I would love it, and I do! Chapter 12 ends the book with a quote from Angela Davis, revolutionary: “We knew we were going to change the world.”