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Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

voiceof freedomOne thing the members of the Caldecott Committee are looking for each time they open a new box is the wonderful feeling of New. When I was on the committee, whenever I opened a Caldecott box, I would feel the burden of The Same. A book would remind me of another book. The illustrations would look just like something else. The story would be just like something I had on my shelf. It wasn’t fair, but that’s the way the brain works. It likes new. New stories. New styles. New art. Even a new size.

The first time I looked at the oversized cover of Voice of Freedom, I had that delicious feeling. Oooh. New. Because I served on the Coretta Scott King Committee a while back, I am always on the lookout for new talent as they award the John Steptoe Award. I quickly sat down and read the magic words on the flap copy: “picture-book debut.” Artist Ekua Holmes is an established Boston fine artist, but to the picture book world, she is something New.

The author of this biography-in-verse of civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer is the well-respected poet Carole Boston Weatherford, which meant there would be endnotes and a hefty bibliography. I was rewarded there too — a long, but not dense, author’s note was easy to find. And a page turn brought a time line! I love time lines. (There is nothing magical in the book world about a time line — I just love them. This one was particularly helpful because a history teacher could use it as a two-page overview of the modern civil rights movement, as Weatherford included all the Big Events.)

All that stuff is interesting (and requires a ton of fact-checking for the committee), but the Caldecott Committee will mostly be concerned with the illustrations. Since the poems are very long, I chose to first “read” the pictures. I like doing this: just slowly turning the pages, attending to the pictures without reading the words. Here is what I noticed:

  • Gentle collage with lots of different papers that had been painted
  • Repeated motifs (sunflowers, dots, circular patterns in the sky or as background…)
  • Mrs. Hamer is usually wearing yellow
  • Each poem has its own color as a theme in the illustration
  • Warm images of family
  • Unflinching depiction of a beating
  • Use of green, black, and red (colors of the Pan-African flag) on the “Black Power” poem page
  • Various page layouts used
  • The opening image of young Fannie (“Sunflower County, Mississippi”) faces to the right, and the closing image of grownup Fannie (“No Rest”) faces left: if there were no pages in-between, the two images would be looking into each other’s eyes

But, mostly, I had the feeling that each illustration was related to the others. With books of poems, the illustrations often stand alone. These were related to each other. The illustrations made me slow down and want to read the words.

If you have not seen this special book yet, I urge you to do so. Grab some Romare Bearden books and some of the works of Bryan Collier. Compare. Contrast. Enjoy.

The main question that this book brings up is whether this is a picture book or an illustrated book. (A “picture book for children” as distinguished from other books with illustrations, is one that essentially provides the child with a visual experience. A picture book has a collective unity of story-line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised.)

The committee will have to decide that. I think this is eligible. I think it’s a picture book. I hope that a lot of committees take their time with this one: Sibert, Coretta Scott King, Ezra Jack Keats, Caldecott…

 

Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.

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Comments

  1. OK, I need to see this one. So far it has eluded me, but I am more than sold with this marvelous analysis. I do love Ms. Weatherford’s work immensely.

  2. God bless you sister! #Fannie Lou

  3. friend of big mama says:

    Big mama, you know how to keep it real!

  4. Im with you Big Mama

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