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The Great Migration

After a rousing discussion, we turn to a book, set in the 1920s and 1930s with African Americans moving from the South to the cities of the North told in poetry. I love the strong, emotional poetry but it is the images that have stayed with me since I reviewed it more than a year ago.

Strong, proud people look directly at the reader in most spreads. Cut paper, ephemera, paint, and processed photographs create collages, adding the right air of seriousness and history to the poetry. The tone of each page changes from page to page, reflecting the different voices and situations.  At each page turn, the volume achieves the feeling of a grand documentary film, telling many stories. Details in the art effortlessly remind the reader of historical items of the times: maps, cars, trains, porters, lunch boxes, and crowded stations all played a role in moving African Americans away from the South of Jim Crow and toward the promise of the North and a better life.

So, here we have poetry, nonfiction, collage with ephemera and photos and an emotional story, unique to America but, in its own way, universal to all people who have to move to find what they hope will be a better life.

Sometimes I wonder if books published early in the year pay a price for having been published so early in the calendar. Because Black History month occurs in February, many books on that subject come out in early January and might be forgotten as new books seduce us. However, the committee process helps keep books in the eyes of committee members no matter when the books were published. Committee members are constantly rearranging their shelves, reading new reviews, keeping up with the ubiquitous “best of” lists and considering suggestions made by colleagues from early in the year. While librarians are perusing catalogs for the next year, these committee members are rereading books the rest of us might have long ago forgotten.

I hope they give The Great Migration serious consideration. The more I look, the more I love this heartfelt and special book.



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.



  1. Dean Schneider says:

    I’ll admit to being a sucker for this kind of melding of history and art in a picture book, and this is a very good example. The Bulletin aptly describes Greenfield’s writing here as “conversational verse paragraphs.” The writing and illustrations work nicely together, though I think the art steals the show here, as Robin describes it. This volume, like Jacob Lawrence’s series of works on the Great Migration, gives a voice and a memorable face to a whole time period, making this a monumental achievement the Caldecott committee will look at closely.

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