Review of A Day for Rememberin’: Inspired by the True Events of the First Memorial Day

A Day for Rememberin’: Inspired by the True Events of the First Memorial Day
by Leah Henderson; illus. by Floyd Cooper
Primary, Intermediate    Abrams    40 pp.    g
5/21    978-1-4197-3630-8    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-68335-560-1    $15.54

Through the eyes of a formerly enslaved ten-year-old boy, Henderson recounts the story of what some consider to be the first celebration of Decoration Day, currently observed as Memorial Day. In 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina, Papa has been rising early to do “man’s work.” Eli, who would rather be with Papa than go to school, can only imagine what kind of important work Papa and the other men are doing. When pressed, all Papa says is, “We were diggin’, and buildin’, and paintin’.” At last, Eli discovers that Papa and the men are converting a racecourse, once used as a Confederate jail, into a monument to the Union soldiers who had fought for freedom of the enslaved and died while imprisoned. Eli and his schoolmates help by painting a fence. The next day, a mile-long parade of neighbors, singing tributes to the unknown Union soldiers, marches to the site and spreads flowers among their graves. Henderson’s affecting narrative resonates with reverence, and Cooper’s prolific use of muted browns and yellows creates a solemn yet celebratory tone. An image of the family backed by an enormous setting sun conveys freedom and hope as Eli declares, “Me, Mama, and Papa can’t never be sold away no more…we will never forget what [the Union soldiers have] given of themselves for the priceless gift of our liberty.” This worthy title offers another little-known fact about African American contributions that are an imperative part of America’s history and traditions. Back matter includes an author’s note, a timeline, source notes (acknowledging the contested history of the holiday), and a bibliography.

From the July/August 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Pauletta Brown Bracy
Pauletta Brown Bracy is professor of library science at North Carolina Central University. She is chair of the 2015-2017 Coretta Scott King Book Awards committee and serves on the 2017 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards committee.

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