Black Gold and Standing in the Need of Prayer

[Many Calling Caldecott posts this season will begin with the Horn Book Magazine review of the featured book (or books), followed by the post's author's critique.]


 Black Gold
by Laura Obuobi; illus. by London Ladd
Primary    Harper/HarperCollins   40 pp.
10/22    9780063015760    $18.99

Reminiscent of creation myths collected in Virginia Hamilton’s In the Beginning (1988), Obuobi’s tale tells how the universe created a Black child. “When the Universe decided to create you, / she drew you from the earth— / rich / dark / and full of everything that gives life.” She shapes the child’s body, skin, lips, and hair. The sun and moon give the child light and wisdom. Finally, “the Universe wrapped her arms around you, / filling you with love.” Ladd’s mixed-media-collage illustrations beautifully complement Obuobi’s lyrical text. The closing illustration features a Black child with arms opened wide, surrounded by dark purples, reds, and greens. Small dots of white and yellow represent the stars, highlighting the child’s connection to the universe. This original creation story will appeal to fans of Spillet-Summer and Goade’s I Sang You Down from the Stars and Charles and Collier’s All Because You Matter (rev. 11/20). NICHOLL DENICE MONTGOMERY

From the January/February 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Standing in the Need of Prayer: A Modern Retelling of the Classic Spiritual
by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. by Frank Morrison
Primary, Intermediate     Crown    32 pp.     g
9/22     978-0-593-30634-5     $18.99
Library ed.  978-0-593-30635-2    $21.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-30636-9    $10.99

This is a moving walk through African American history, via Weatherford’s expansion of the lyrics of a well-known Negro spiritual and Morrison’s powerful, imagistic art. In his distinctive illustrations, Morrison employs innovative perspectives and unusual visual compositions to encourage readers to make connections between historical events, while ­Weatherford’s poetry, per the author’s note, “integrat[es] historical and contemporary events that summoned courage and faith.” The book’s first, wordless double-page spread looks down on the bare back of an enslaved man emerging from the bowels of a slave ship, facing a white enslaver who holds a whip. From there, the book represents significant historical and contemporary Black heroes such as Nat Turner, Ruby Bridges, Florence Joyner, and Colin Kaepernick; it also portrays important eras such as the Harlem ­Renaissance, the civil rights movement, the Great Migration, and the Black Lives Matter movement. A richly illustrated, informative picture book that will leave readers humming and spark a desire to learn more. MICHELLE H. MARTIN

From the September/October 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


In response to children’s letters to The Crisis magazine, W.E.B. Du Bois announced the creation of The Brownies’ Book. The purpose of the magazine was to show Black children that being Black was a “normal, beautiful thing” and to make them familiar with Black history (The Crisis, 1919). Two picture books of 2022 — Black Gold, illustrated by London Ladd and written by Laura Obuobi; and Standing in the Need of Prayer, illustrated by Frank Morrison and written by Carole Boston Weatherford — have continued Du Bois’s legacy of representing Black children and Black history accurately and with love.

In Black Gold, Ladd’s mixed-media collage art makes it clear to the reader that Black children are "normal" and "beautiful." Through collage, Ladd shows the universe creating a Black child. One of the double-page spreads that stood out to me depicts the child, their scalp being massaged by the universe’s hands. The child’s afro contains stars and planets, showing that the universe is transferring her love to the child. This image brought back memories of my grandmother and cousin doing my hair, massaging love and tenderness into my scalp. But the most powerful of the pictures is the double-page spread that also serves as the cover art. In this picture, we see the child in profile. Again, their afro contains stars and galaxies. The green, purple, and blue collage background gives the feeling of the child in the universe. The child’s focused stare to the right gives the impression that the child is taking in their future.

In Standing in the Need of Prayer, Frank Morrison uses oil and spray to create a timeline of the African American experience. The opening endpapers depict a slave ship with two men coming up from the belly of the ship. The first man stands with his head held up and his shoulders straight. In a later spread, a group of enslaved people are bunched together, ready for sale. One of the men wears an iron collar meant to keep him from running away. What stands out in this image is the man’s look of determination as he stares slightly past the reader. This look of determination is presented throughout the book. It is seen in Nat Turner’s open arms and large hands holding a bible as he preachers to others. It is seen in the praying woman as she prepares to migrate north. It is most clear in the image of Ruby Bridges. In this image, Bridges's jaw is set, her eyes face forward, and her hands hold tightly to the books she is carrying. Beneath her, grayish images yell and scream.

Through their illustrations, both Ladd and Morrison make clear that love and determination are integral to Black life. Ladd uses his images to present Black children as beautiful, while Morrison represents the Black experience in America, even the difficult ones. These books continue a long legacy of writing for Black children, and either would make great Caldecott Medal winners.

Nicholl Denice Montgomery

Nicholl Denice Montgomery is currently working on a PhD at Boston College in the curriculum and instruction department. Previously, she worked as an English teacher with Boston Public Schools.

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