February 1 – National Freedom Day

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About the Holiday

National Freedom Day commemorates February 1, 1865, the day President Abraham Lincoln signed a joint U.S. House of Representatives and Senate resolution that outlawed slavery. This resolution became the 13th Amendment to the Constitution on December 6, 1865. Major Richard Robert Wright Sr., a former slave, founded the National Freedom Day Association and was instrumental in creating a formal national day of remembrance. The first celebration of National Freedom Day took place in 1942, and in 1947, a year after Wright’s death, the U.S. Congress passed a bill marking February 1 as National Freedom Day. The proclamation was signed into law on June 30, 1948 by President Harry S Truman. The holiday led to Black History Day, which was later expanded to Black History Month.

Lift Every Voice and Sing: A Celebration of the African American National Anthem

Written by James Weldon Johnson | Illustrated by Elizabeth Catlett

 

It has been 120 years since James Weldon Johnson, a principal at Stanton Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida, wrote a poem to be used in the school’s commemoration ceremony of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. His brother, composer John Rosamond Johnson, set the poem to music. On February 12, 1900, five hundred students performed the song. From that celebration, the song spread, gaining in popularity throughout the South and then throughout the country.

In 1949 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People adopted Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing as the official African American anthem. The song continues to inspire as it is sung and heard in churches and schools and during times of celebration and protest.

This new edition of Lift Every Voice and Sing brings together Johnson’s stirring poem with stunning black-and-white linocuts by Harlem Renaissance artist Elizabeth Catlett, who created them in the 1940s as part of a series of artworks focusing on black women.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lift-every-voice-and-sing-guitar

Image copyright Elizabeth Catlett, 1993, text by John Weldon Johnson. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

The book opens with these joyful lines punctuated with powerful images. On the first page a woman strums a guitar while beside her there is the image—perhaps it’s a memory or the subject of her song—of a black man being attacked by a klansman while a cross burns nearby. On the second page is a picture of Sojourner Truth with her left hand on a lectern that holds a Bible and her right, index finger extended, pointing skyward. In her eyes there is sadness and confidence and knowledge. “Lift ev’ry voice and sing / Till earth and heaven ring, / Ring with the harmonies of Liberty; // Let our rejoicing rise / High as the listening skies, / Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.”

The poem continues with the exhortation to sing with the faith and hope learned from the past and present. A linocut of black women sitting on a bus behind the “colored only” sign, created by Catlett in 1946, is compelling for its truth and foresight, especially when paired with these lines. But knowing there was still much to do, Johnson encouraged his listeners: “Facing the rising sun of our new day begun / Let us march on till victory is won.” On the left-hand page Harriett Tubman points the way to freedom for escaping slaves—one couple carrying their belongings and their baby—along the Underground Railroad.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lift-every-voice-and-sing-bus

Image copyright Elizabeth Catlett, 1993, text by John Weldon Johnson. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

The song remembers the “stony road” and the “chastening rod” and also the “steady beat…” of “weary feet” that have brought them to a place for which their forefathers died. Johnson sees a brighter future, and Catlett’s linocut of Phyllis Wheatley, a child when she became a slave, writing one of her poems while three women chained together step into the light her example showed. Catlett’s original caption for this piece read: “I’m Phyllis Wheatley. I proved intellectual equality in the midst of slavery.”

The poem then goes on to appeal to God, “who has brought us thus far on the way” to keep them in the right path and in His hand so that “…may we forever stand. True to our GOD, True to our native land.”

Author/illustrator Ashley Bryan—a Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award winner for Freedom Over Me—provides a poignant Foreword. A short description of the project Elizabeth Catlett undertook after winning a Julius Rosenwald Foundation grant and her original captions for each linocut included in the book as well as the music for Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing follow the text.

An emotionally moving presentation of James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson’s poem and song, Lift Every Voice and Sing: A Celebration of the African American National Anthem would make a beautiful thought-provoking and inspirational addition to school, home, and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 12 and up

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681199559

You can learn more about James Weldon Johnson and read several of his poems on the Poetry Foundation website.

To learn more about Elizabeth Catlett and view some of her artwork, visit the Artnet website.

Discover more about Ashley Bryan, his art, and his writing, visit the Ashley Bryan Center website.

National Freedom Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chalk-garden-st

Freedom Stone

 

Freedom is a precious right—one that can be represented in different ways by each person. For today’s activity use a brick, paving stone, large stone, or molded plaster of Paris and decorate it with a picture or design that means freedom to you. Then put it in a special place—in a garden, near your front or back door, in your room, or in another spot—where it will remind you of freedom’s gifts.

Supplies

  • Brick, paving stone, large stone, plaster of Paris
  • Paint
  • Plastic gems, bead, or other small objects
  • Strong glue or other adhesive
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Create a design that shows what freedom means to you or an object that represents freedom to you
  2. Paint your stone with the design, let dry
  3. Add gems, beads, or other objects
  4. Display your Freedom Stone

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lift-every-voice-and-sing-cover

You can find Lift Every Voice and Sing at these booksellers

Amazon | Bloomsbury | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 12 – It’s Black History Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-words-set-me-free-cover

About the Holiday

Black History Month, also known as National African American History Month celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. Originally a week-long observance commemorating the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and Frederick Douglass on February 14,  Black History Month was officially established in 1976 by then president Gerald Ford.

Words Set Me Free

Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome | Illustrated by James E. Ransome

 

Born into slavery and separated from his mother in infancy, Frederick Bailey is raised by his Grandmama while his mother works on a separate plantation. When she is able Harriet Bailey walks the 12 miles between plantations to spend a few short hours with her son, watching him sleep before making the long journey back. While Frederick is still a very young child, his mother falls ill and dies. Douglass recalls never seeing his mother’s face in daylight.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-words-set-me-free-the-story-of-young-frederick-douglas-plantation

Image copyright James E. Ransome, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

At the age of six, Frederick is moved from his Grandmama’s cabin to the plantation house. At eight, he is sent to the master’s brother in Baltimore, Maryland. Here, the master’s wife, Sophia Auld, treats Frederick more like a paid servant then as a slave. When Frederick says he wants to learn how to read and write, she immediately begins teaching him the alphabet. Frederick is always mindful, however, that he may be punished for these lessons, and he has only memorized the letters and a few words before his master puts an end to his education. Angrily, the master explains to his wife, “If you teach him how to read…it would forever unfit him to be a slave.”

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These words are perhaps Frederick’s greatest lesson. He never forgets them, and they fuel his resolve to pursue an education. He makes clever use of the few resources he has and slowly learns to read and write. From the newspapers he discovers that the North offers freedom, and Frederick decides to escape. It’s many long years, however, before he can fulfill his dreams. At last, he sees an opportunity to leave the South behind, and using his talent for writing makes his escape a reality.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-words-set-me-free-the-story-of-young-frederick-douglas-tall-ship

Image copyright James E. Ransome, courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Lesa Cline-Ransome has written a compelling biography of Frederick Douglass for children in Words Set Me Free. In straightforward language and through first-person point of view, Cline-Ransome reveals the brutal truth of Douglass’s life as a slave and his fight against injustice. As the title suggests, the book focuses on Frederick’s desire to become educated and the obstacles he overcame to succeed. This universally important message continues the work Douglass engaged in long ago.

James Ransome’s stirring paintings realistically highlight pivotal scenes of Frederick’s life, beginning with the tender moments he spends with his mother as a very young child. With an unstinting eye Ransome reveals the hardship and cruelty Frederick endured as a slave. His moving illustrations also demonstrate hope as Frederick, with blossoming intellect, resolves to educate himself and find a means of escape.

Ages 5 and up                                                                                                            

Simon & Schuster, New York, 2012 | ISBN 978-1416959038

Learn more about Lesa Cline-Ransome and her books on her website!

Find a gallery of illustration, paintings, drawings, videos, and more on James E. Ransome‘s website!

Black History Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-frederick-douglass-word-search-puzzle

 

Frederick Douglass Word Search

 

Words were so important to Frederick Douglass that he risked everything to learn how to read and write. In this printable Frederick Douglass Word Search Puzzle you will find words about the subject of today’s book. Here’s the Solution

February 1 – National Freedom Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-freedom-in-congo-square-cover

About the Holiday

National Freedom Day commemorates the February 1, 1865 signing by President Abraham Lincoln of a joint United States House of Representatives and Senate resolution that outlawed slavery and later became the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Major Richard Robert Wright Sr., a former slave, called on local and national leaders to meet in Philadelphia and formalize a national day of remembrance. In 1947, a year after Wright’s death, the U.S. Congress passed a bill marking February 1 as National Freedom Day. The proclamation was signed into law on June 30, 1948 by President Harry S Truman. The holiday led to Black History Day, which was later expanded to Black History Month.

Freedom in Congo Square

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford | Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

 

From sunup to sundown slaves brought to the state of Louisiana from their homelands in Africa and the West Indies toiled on plantations six days a week. The seventh day, Sunday, was set aside as a day of rest and worship, and in the afternoon people of African descent gathered in Congo Square in the heart of New Orleans to dance, play instruments, and talk. On Monday morning the long week began anew, but the rhythms of Congo Square sustained the men, women, and children through “hogs to slop, / mules to train, and logs to chop. / Slavery was no ways fair. / Six more days to Congo Square.

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

On Tuesdays, with “cows to feed, / fields to plow, and rows to seed,” five more days stretched out in endless labor. “Wednesdays, there were beds to make, / silver to shine, and bread to bake. / The dreaded lash, too much to bear. / Four more days to Congo Square.” Thursdays came with wash tubs and drying lines, scrub brushes, and brooms. “Spirituals rose from the despair. / Three more days to Congo Square.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

Fridays were spent in back-breaking work and though some brave souls dared to run, most were counting “Two more days to Congo Square.” Saturdays brought no more relief, but the days had whittled down to hours and “Freedom was slaves’ ardent prayer. / One more day to Congo Square.” At last came Sunday afternoon, and slaves and free rushed to Congo Square—“…a market and a gathering ground / where African music could resound.”

They met their kinsmen by nation, tribe, or language and revived their own stories and music played on drums, fiddles, shells, flutes, gourds, and bells that led to chants and dancing. “This piece of earth was a world apart. / Congo Square was freedom’s heart.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

Through powerful rhythmic couplets, as spare and austere as the work they describe yet ending in a focal point of hope, Carole Boston Weatherford recreates the steady thrum that resonated in the hearts of slave and free men and women as they anticipated each afternoon in Congo Square.  As the days remaining until Congo Square are counted off, Weatherford’s predominantly one-syllable words form a staccato beat, the pounding of hard, physical work. When Sunday comes and people find joy in their shared music and dance, Weatherford’s phrasing within the same structured couplets rises, employing multi-syllable words that give the verses a pulsing flow that echoes the freedom they find in Congo Square.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-freedom-in-congo-square-music-resounded

Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, text Carole Boston Weatherford. Courtesy simonandschuster.com

Gregory Christie’s vivid folk-art illustrations are a perfect complement to Weatherford’s verses. The elongated figures stand tall and proud amidst the fields and workrooms of the plantation. In some scenes the slaves’ angled bodies, leaning over to pick cotton, wash floors, or lift baskets may be bent, but they are not broken, and while two men work on building a wall, they seem to kneel prayerfully as they add another brick. In a moving two-page spread set at night, brown wood-grain houses superimposed with rows of sleeping slaves float on a blue-toned ground below a red sky, reminiscent of ships laden with Africans sailing the Middle Passage of the Atlantic slave trade. As the men and women congregate in Congo Square, Christie’s lithe figures raise their arms and kick their legs in dance. The fiery backgrounds swirl with color as the celebrants jump, stretch, play instruments and move with exultation.

A detailed Forward by historian and Congo Square scholar, Freddi Williams Evans and an Author’s Note following the text reveal more information on the history of Congo Square and its significance to Jazz music.

Freedom in Congo Square is both a heartrending and jubilant book that would make a wonderful and meaningful addition to any child’s home library.

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1499801033

Learn more about Carole Boston Weatherford and her books and discover book-related resources on her website!

If you’re lucky enough to live in Decatur, Illinois, you can visit R. Gregory Christie’s unique art studio, art school, and bookstore Gas-Art Gifts Autographed Children’s Bookstore. If you don’t live near Decatur, you can check out all the books, art, and items for sale on the website!

National Freedom Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chalk-garden-st

Freedom Stone

 

Freedom is a precious right—one that can be represented in different ways by each person. For today’s activity use a brick, paving stone, large stone, or molded plaster of Paris and decorate it with a picture or design that means freedom to you. Then put it in a special place—in a garden, near your front or back door, in your room, or in another spot—where it will remind you of freedom’s gifts.

Supplies

  • Brick, paving stone, large stone, plaster of Paris
  • Paint
  • Plastic gems, bead, or other small objects
  • Strong glue or other adhesive
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Create a design that shows what freedom means to you or an object that represents freedom to you
  2. Paint your stone with the design, let dry
  3. Add gems, beads, or other objects
  4. Display your Freedom Stone

Picture Book Review