Friday, January 17

Book Look: "We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song" by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

85 years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15th, and next month is black history month, so what better time to talk about children's books that address the Civil Rights Movement than now? 
 I have been reading Douglas Blackmon's "Slavery by Another Name" which is a thoroughly depressing, yet compelling account (using primary sources) of the history of slaves and their descendants, and the "lease" (or sale) of black convicts, post emancipation, to commercial interests. When I was a child I had always assumed that slavery had ended with the Civil War, which was sadly not the case at all. The more I read about the subject, the more I feel that it is really important that we do our part in educating ourselves and our children about the social injustices and the atrocities that have been committed.

I have a 4 year old and a 3 year old, and I've been wondering how I can talk on their level of understanding, about this sordid part of our American History... and still do it justice. We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song was written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (just released last December), and it is a wonderful book. When I sat down and read the book with my daughter for the first time I totally choked up and had a hard time finishing it.
The book talks about the song We Shall Overcome (that you may identify with the 60's Civil Rights Movement) all the way from it's origins in the time of slavery up to modern day, and how the Civil Rights Movement has evolved. 

This song has become a symbol of the fight for equality, and it is a perfect vehicle to help children understand the slow evolution of the rights that the black communities had to fight for. And Debbie Levy writes in such lyrical way that compliments the poetry of the song and Vanessa Brantley-Newton's whimsical, collage style is absolutely beautiful and lively. The writing and illustration compliment each other wonderfully and are so inspired. I am so glad I have this book in our own personal library. This is definitely the type of book for libraries, school teachers, and it's wonderful book to help parents to sit down and talk about civil rights to their children.

Are there any books that you'd recommend for Black History Month? How do you talk to your children about  civil rights and other heavy subjects? 


Vanessa Brantley Newton said...

It is such a heavy topic, but if we don't talk about we will forget and I don't ever want to forget. Our children, black, white, brown and yellow need to know about the price that was paid for them to go where they want to go and do what they want to do and say what they want to say. There was an awesome priced that was paid for them all. It wasn't just black people who marched, but whites and Jews that lost their lives too. I explained to my daughter that there was time when we traveled back and forth from NJ to South Carolina that when we had to use the bathroom in Virginia or North Carolina we couldn't use the same rest rooms. We had to go alongside the road or in the woods to go. Jim Crow laws were still in effect and let's not even talk about eating at a Howard Johnson. My sister and I begged my parents to stop to eat there and they explained that we couldn't because we where black. Didn't understand it then. The joy came when one day when my parent took us down south again for the summer and we timidly asked to go to once Howard Johnson's once again and they said , " YES", oh boy! Finally we would get to go into that awesome place that we couldn't go into before. The people that serve us were kind and smiled and then there where some that made it very plain that they didn't want us there. That was a long time ago, but the story still needs to be told. We Shall Over Come is the perfect way to introduce children to the message of Dr. King.

Meridth Gimbel said...

Dear friend, thank you so much for sharing. I can't imagine how difficult that must have been for you and your family. I think that it's easy to overlook other people's sufffering and trials unless we talk about it. I love how open you are and I have always admired how positive you are. And truly I love this book. (Thanks!!)