Nelson, Kadir. Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. Balzer + Bray: New York, 2011. ISBN 9780061730764
This book goes through the history of African Americans in America from slavery to the civil rights movement lead by Dr. King Jr.
This book was wonderful to read through. It has a very light, conversational tone that will keep young readers engaged. The chapters are short and broken up by full page watercolor illustrations.
The book flows really smoothly, thanks to the light tone, so kids will have no trouble getting through it.
The whole book is told in a narrative from the point of view of a person in relation to their family history, and how the things that African Americans went through affected their family.
“Most folks my age and complexion don’t speak much about the past. Sometimes it’s just too hard to talk about- nothing we like to share with you young folk… Many of us are getting up in age and feel it’s time to make some things known before they are gone for good. So it’s important that you pay attention, honey, because I”m only gong to tell you this story but once.” (pg. 7)
I really enjoyed this and I learned a little more about events that had a dramatic effect on our country, and the people who helped make equality a reality (such as Adam Powell, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Medgar Evers.)
What is so significant about this work is that it is written through a personal lens. Four hundred years of African American history is told through an African American voice. The casual narration with “honey” and “chile” thrown in gives a sense of sitting on the living room floor, listening to an elder in the family tell you stories.
“You might wonder, ‘Why didn’t they fight back?’ Chile, believe me when I tell you that they did, every step of the way; but unlike their fellow Africans who captured them, they didn’t have any guns to fight back with, so they fought with their fists and died.” (pg. 21)
The illustrations really bring the book to life. The burning cross is especially harrowing and chilling.
“It was their way of keeping us ‘in our place,’ wherever that was supposed to be. They couldn’t stand us trying to be equal to whites.” (pg. 45)
The truthfulness in the book is in the perspective of the African Americans and the historical content it covers. It’s heartbreaking, but instills pride in those in the African American community. It’s their history, their wars, their birthright.
“Our centuries-long struggle for freedom and equal rights had helped make the American promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness a reality for all Americans. We have come a might long way, honey, and we still have a good ways to go, but that promise and the right to fight for it is worth ever ounce of its weight in gold. It is our nation’s heart and soul.” (pg. 99)
Ending with a personable Author’s Note and a Timeline of Events, this book was a great read, one that was easy and educational.
From Publishers Weekly:
“As in WE ARE THE SHIP, Nelson knits together the nation’s proudest moments with its most shameful, taking on the whole of African-American history. He handles this vast subject with easy grace. [Nelson’s] jaw-dropping portraits radiate determination and strength. A tremendous achievement.”
From Kirkus Review:
“The dramatic oil paintings heighten the dignity of this story, whether they are of well-known historical figures, common folk or landscape…This intimate narrative makes the stories accessible to young readers and powerfully conveys how personal this history feels for many African-Americans.”
“Nelson…adds to his notable titles with this powerful view of African American history. Illustrated with 44 full-page paintings, this handsome volume is told in the fictionalized, informal voice of an African American senior looking back on her life and remembering what her elders told her.”
Other books by Kadir Nelson:
We Are the Ship ISBN 978-1437969535
Henry’s Freedom Box ISBN 978-0439777339
If You Plant a Seed ISBN 978-0062298898
What Color is My World? by Kareen Abdul-Jabbar ISBN 978-0763664428
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford ISBN 978-0786851751
Let it Shine by Andrea Davis Pinkney ISBN 978-0547906041
Choose one of the events from the book and write a story from the point of view of someone your age going through it.