Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Non-Fiction Picture Books Tell New Stories

     Visit Alyson Beecher on Wednesdays for Non-Fiction Picture Books at Kidlit Frenzy -- hashtag #nfpb2020! Thanks to her hosting and sharing and those who add their posts, you can discover and celebrate terrific nonfiction picture books! 

          In years past, I've read Karen Cushman's middle-grade Newbery-winning novel titled The Midwife's Apprentice and the wonderful The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas, among others. This picture/poetry book for middle grade/young adult readers by Eloise Greenfield brings readers a brief history of African-American midwives with praise and gratitude for their work. 
         There is an introduction sharing the details of a midwives' work, not just to "catch the babies", but ensure that germs do not get near, along with weighing the babies and recording names, birth date and weight. They also gave advice to the mothers whose baby has just been born. In slavery, these women were those who were too old for fieldwork, "called 'grannies' and addressed as Granny. Today most prefer to be addressed as 'Mrs. or Miss'." In the past they educated each other, passing down the knowledge from Granny to child to grandchild. It wasn't until 1941 that the first midwifery program was opened for black public health nurses, at Tuskegee Institute.
        That is a brief part of the introduction, yet the remainder of the book fills with Eloise Greenfield's poetry in praise of those women, illustrated in fabulous, colorful paintings by Daniel Minter. She writes of the "welcome into the world. . .for loving" while Minter draws babies in the womb swirling around one woman. She writes that even those women were caught and shackled, but brought their knowledge with them across the sea as the younger ones watched and learned: "And so, too, the next generation, and the next, and the next. . ." A favorite of mine is the poem/story of a baby born to freedom in 1863, "think about this new thing circling around them." The thought that this baby has been born in this new time of freedom is to be celebrated, and they do! There, Minter shows a woman surrounded by an ocean with circles widening and a slave ship far in the distance.
          Here's a glimpse of Minter's wonderfully intricate and symbolic art, with a midwife's thoughts written by Greenfield.
a midwife knowing she might be called soon;
"the sky was light enough
for her to see the trees
at the end of the road."

           Greenfield adds more stories, one in the 2000's, but the final story is a tribute to "Miss Rovenia Mayo. She lives over yonder."  That Miss Rovenia is the midwife who "caught" baby Eloise. At the end is a bit more to Eloise's story, with photos of her and her brother and her parents. 
           Credits for photographs and a bibliography are added.

Favorite books by Eloise Greenfield: The Great Migration: Journey to the North, Childtimes: A Three-Generation Memoir and Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems.

And by Daniel Minter: Ellen's Broom and most recently: Going Down Home With Daddy.


  1. Thanks for this review. This is a very unusual book and one that I found to be a very interesting aspect in the history of African Americans. I enjoyed reading it, but I really loved the art. It was just so layered and really knock-your-socks-off beautiful.

    1. I loved knowing more about this history and yes, the art is fabulous, I agree. Thanks, Alex!

  2. This book is so beautiful in words and art. I really enjoyed it, Linda.

    1. I love that you did, too, Margie. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I saw this listed on Betsy Bird's site originally but was unable to find it. Thanks for including the interior art photo, I would really like to read this book!

    1. That may have been where I saw it, too & fortunately it was at my library! Hope you find it, Michele! It's terrific!


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