Review of Magnolia Flower

Magnolia FlowerMagnolia Flower
by Zora Neale Hurston; adapted by Ibram X. Kendi; illus. by Loveis Wise
Primary    Harper/HarperCollins    40 pp.    g
9/22    978-0-06-309831-2    $19.99

Kendi’s (Stamped, rev. 5/20) adaptation of a short story by Hurston softens (or leaves out) the original’s violence, adds elements that are explained in a historical endnote, and retains the narrative frame of a “Mighty River” telling a brook a story about people in love. The tale begins with Bentley, who escapes enslavement and marries Swift Deer, a Cherokee woman. They have a daughter they name ­Magnolia Flower, who grows up during the Civil War and falls in love with a brown-skinned man named John. Bentley doesn’t approve of John and locks him up to keep the lovers apart. Magnolia Flower frees him and they run away. The story ends with their return to the banks of the river forty years later. Both the lyrical text and the flowing digital illustrations let the theme of love running through Hurston’s stories shine. Wise’s (The People Remember, rev. 11/21; Ablaze with Color, rev. 3/22) brightly colored images capture the beauty of the forest and the love between ­Magnolia Flower and John. In his appended author’s note, Kendi explains his intention behind adapting a short story for adults as a picture-book text: “The earlier we expose our children to our literary treasures—to our literary legends like Hurston—the ­better.”

From the November/December 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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