Review of The 1619 Project: Born on the Water

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water
by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson; illus. by Nikkolas Smith
Primary, Intermediate    Kokila/Penguin    48 pp.    g
11/21    978-0-593-30735-9    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-593-30737-3    $11.99

The book begins with a premise many African American families know well: a child gets an assignment at school that involves learning about her ancestry and culture, and she doesn’t know how to find the answers that seem so readily available to her classmates of other ethnicities. “I do not know where I begin, what my story is,” she narrates. When she goes home and tells her grandmother this, Grandma gathers all the family members to tell them about their past. In poem after poem, she relates the tale of the people who were brought to the Americas on the White Lion in 1619. She tells the story of who they were and how they lived when they were free. She describes their language, Kimbundu; their work; their knowledge; their love; their dance. She tells how they were stolen, how they suffered on the water, how “these many people / became one people, / a new people” on the ship, when they refused to die. Grandma tells of the sadness, the determination, faith, hope, and resistance that brought the people through centuries of struggle to the current day, where a legacy remains that leaves the schoolgirl with pride in her people and their contributions to building the United States of America. Written in lovely and loving verse, with dynamic, expressive, and expansive illustrations that convey the emotional journey of a resilient people, this book provides a moving, informative answer to an essential question.

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Autumn Allen

An educator and a senior editor at Barefoot Books, Autumn Allen is the author of All You Have to Do (Kokila/Penguin, 2023). She holds an MA-MFA in children's literature and writing for children from Simmons University, and a master's degree in education from Harvard University. She was the 2020-2021 Writer in Residence at the Boston Public Library.

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