Review of Barracoon: Adapted for Young Readers

Barracoon: Adapted for Young Readers Barracoon: Adapted for Young Readers
by Zora Neale Hurston; adapted by Ibram X. Kendi; illus. by Jazzmen Lee-Johnson
Intermediate, Middle School    Amistad/HarperCollins    208 pp.
1/24    9780063098336    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780063098350    $10.99

In 1860, more than fifty years after the United States outlawed the slave trade, the ship Clotilda journeyed back to Alabama from West Africa, carrying kidnapped people. Years later, Hurston, renowned anthropologist, writer, and folklorist, interviewed eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis (born Oluale Kossula), who was purportedly the last survivor of the ship, at his home in Plateau, Alabama. Kendi (adapter of Hurston’s Magnolia Flower, rev. 11/22, and The Making of Butterflies, rev. 5/23) has adapted the seminal work, first published in 2018, for young readers. He opens by providing thoroughly drawn context, characterizing the transatlantic human trade as the “most dramatic chapter in the story of human existence” and describing the horrific conditions under which enslaved people existed. In African American Vernacular English, or Ebonics (“I want tell-ee somebody who I is…I want you everywhere you go to tell everybody what Cudjo say”), the man shared memories of his family and community in his home village, the harrowing Middle Passage, his five-and-a-half years of enslavement, and his freedom following the Civil War during which he married, had children, and cofounded AfricaTown (later renamed Plateau). Throughout the story, his loneliness and longing to return to his native home are palpable, supplying readers with an intimate perspective on his strength to survive. Kendi illuminates these memories in a captivating narrative that exudes empathy and authenticity. Pencil and black ink drawings (unseen) accompany the text. Powerful, profound, and necessary.

From the January/February 2024 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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