March 1, 2017
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked this book up from the library. I knew it was about slavery. I knew it was written in poems. I knew it had won numerous awards from the American Library Association. Now I know why.
On the first spread, readers learn that Cado Fairchilds, the owner of 11 slaves, has recently died. His widow is afraid to manage their estate alone because she has heard about slave revolts. Instead, she will sell them and move home to England were she will feel safe among her own people.
Wow. As I type this I realize how powerfully Bryan set up this book. From the widows worries and words, we move on to the lives of the slaves people who are once again being offered for sale which will surely mean that they will lose the families they have built. And this will happen after losing their African families.
Each slave gets two poems. One is about the work that they do that benefits the Fairchilds estate. The second is about how they see themselves, how they maintain their African roots, for those who had them, and how they benefit their fellow slaves. This format makes it clear that there is a person that the master and his family knows and benefits from. Then there is another person, a person who has dreams and desires and hopes for a better, safer future.
The author based this book on a slave document. It is an appraisement of the property of one Mrs. Fairchilds. It includes:
1 Negro woman named Peggy …… $150.00
One women Charlotte and child …. $400.00
One Man Qush ………………….$100.00
21 Large Steers …………………$189.00
One Bay Mare……………………$100.00
One Negro Man named Bacus….$250.00
I’m not retyping the entire document but what was most chilling to me was that these people, people, human beings, were listed amongst livestock and farming equipment. They weren’t even sectioned off as special or different but were any old property.
This isn’t going to be an easy book to share but it is essential as part of the reality of our national history. It doesn’t matter if your family were brought over as slaves, owned slaves or worked on the Underground Railroad. It doesn’t really even matter if you’ve only been here for one generation. This is part of our national heritage. A part that we have to look in the eye if we ever hope to move past it.
I wouldnt’ read this to a kindergartener but a third grader? Definitely. Just be ready for some really tough discussions.