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Review of Freedom in Congo Square

weatherford_freedom in congo squarestar2 Freedom in Congo Square
by Carole Boston Weatherford; 
illus. by R. Gregory Christie
Primary, Intermediate    Little Bee    40 pp.
1/16    978-1-4998-0103-3    $17.99    g

In historic Louisiana, enslaved Africans were provided a half-day of rest each Sunday, and in New Orleans their official and legal gathering place was Congo Square. With two spare couplets for each day of the week, Weatherford tells readers what slavery looks like. The verses count down to Sunday: “Mondays, there were hogs to slop, / mules to train, and logs to chop. / Slavery was no ways fair. Six more days to Congo Square.”  A slow, steady rhythm builds as the many labors and horrors (“the dreaded lash, too much to bear”) of enslaved people are described. Weatherford sugarcoats nothing, but because of the poetic form, the text is not mired in sadness or pain; Weatherford just respectfully and soberly acknowledges it throughout. Christie’s illustrations, whose colors and components recall the work of Jacob Lawrence, add even more emotional depth. Though most of the faces are featureless, Christie’s use of sharp angles in the slaves’ bodies as he depicts their back-breaking work evinces their ever-present emotional and physical suffering. When they reach Congo Square, though, the figures elongate and have softer curves and angles, allowing them to relax and to dance; they leap as high as Weatherford’s joyful verse. A foreword provides historical context for the real place the book describes.

From the May/June 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Hannah Gómez About Sarah Hannah Gómez

Sarah Hannah Gómez holds an MA in children’s literature and an MS in library and information science from Simmons College and is working toward a PhD in children’s and adolescent literature at the University of Arizona. She blogs at shgmclicious.com.

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