The past few weeks have brought a lot of necessary conversations about issues of race and history into the teaching community. It’s so important for us to understand the real history of our country, to understand from multiple perspectives, and to listen —- really listen —- to learn, and to be ready to change.
I was listening to one of my favorite journalist/authors, Isabel Wilkerson, on the events in Charlottesville, talking about people’s responses to her incredible book, The Warmth of Other Suns.
If you haven’t read this book, you need to. It changed my understanding of so much of what I thought I knew about our country. Wilkerson talked about how many people contact her after reading her book to tell her they never knew about the Great Migration. It’s not taught well in most history classes, but it is a phenomenon that has had a profound impact on our country. I will end this post with a companion book that is also important reading. Wilkerson got the title from Richard Wright:
“I was leaving the South
to fling myself into the unknown . . .
I was taking a part of the South
to transplant in alien soil,
to see if it could grow differently,
if it could drink of new and cool rains,
bend in strange winds,
respond to the warmth of other suns
and, perhaps, to bloom”
With this in mind, I started to think about children’s books that address the topic, so what I’m reading today falls under the umbrella of the Great Migration.
This Is the Rope, by Jacqueline Woodson with illustrations by James Ransom. In a New York Times review of family stories, Valerie Steiker writes:
In “This Is the Rope,” the Newbery Honor winner Jacqueline Woodson uses a common household item to reflect one family’s experience of the Great Migration. “This is the rope my grandmother found beneath an old tree a long time ago back home in South Carolina,” the young narrator recounts. “This is the rope my grandmother skipped under the shade of a sweet-smelling pine.” Spare and evocative as a poem, Woodson’s refrain winds through the book, fastening us to the comfort of memories and the strength of family ties.
This Is the Rope is lovely as a mentor text for teaching family stories, memoir, and personal narrative. The generational context provides inspiration for lots of storytelling.
The Great Migration: Journey to the North, by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. Of the book, Zinn Education says,
Here is a picture book that introduces the historic story of the Great Migration to young readers. Eloise Greenfield, one of the most important children’s book writers of the last 40 years, wrote about her family migration from Parmele, North Carolina to Washington, DC in Childtimes: A Three Generation Memoir for upper elementary school….
For everyone who was gripped by Isabel Wilkerson’s Warmth of Other Suns, you will be moved once again as you read Greenfield and Gilchrist’s story of the journey that transformed the lives of so many people and so many cities in this country.
This is a great addition to any classroom library. Who doesn’t love Eloise Greenfield, and this book is very accessible to a range of elementary grades and beyond.
Another beautiful book to add to this text set is:
The Great Migration: An American Story by Jacob Lawrence. From goodreads:
This critically acclaimed picture book suitable for a wide range of readers chronicles the Great Migration—the diaspora of African Americans who headed to the North after WWI—through the iconic paintings and words of renowned artist Jacob Lawrence. The New York Times praised it as “a compassionate and sensitive portrayal of history.”
Lawrence was just 23 years old when he painted his acclaimed Migration Series, striking tempera paintings evocative of the enormity of the migration. Children are captivated by the images in this book, and it is a great source for writing and discussion.
The Warmth of Other Suns taught me about events important to my understanding of the development of cities in the northern states. Another book, recently published, that is helping me better understand the way things developed and got us to where we are now is from Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.
In The Color of Law (published by Liveright in May 2017), Richard Rothstein argues with exacting precision and fascinating insight how segregation in America—the incessant kind that continues to dog our major cities and has contributed to so much recent social strife—is the byproduct of explicit government policies at the local, state, and federal levels.
So much is explained through these (very wrong) government policies. It was a feature, not a bug.
Well, that’s what I’m reading right now!