I fell in love with this book the moment I saw it. The cover itself featuring the entire Loving family in a close embrace, seemingly on Dad’s lap as Mom and Dad exchange a gaze as warm as a hug, emanates warmth and makes me feel a sense of strength and belonging. Right now I let my four-year-old interpret the illustrations and make her own story but I have cleared a center space on one of our bookshelves to present this book and look forward to the day when I will read my daughter the words. Written and illustrated by an interracial wife and husband team—Selina Alko and Sean Qualls— who include their own short bio of being an interracial couple at the end of the book, the narrative weaves the sensitive story of the Loving family from the perspectives of Mildred, Richard, and their children with the harsh facts of U.S.America’s racial history. While the narrative portrays some aspects of the love story between Mildred and Richard, as children read the images and/or words of this picture book, they will connect with the Loving children through the cozy illustrations and narrative lines like “Donald, Peggy, and Sidney had two parents who loved them, and who loved each other.” The third person omniscient narrative voice switches from the children’s perspective to the parents’ to a compassionate voice detailing as delicately as possible, the disturbing realities of Reconstruction Era, Jim Crow, and other racist laws of United States’ history.
While I am thankful that this book is in print –I’ve been waiting for a picture book on the Lovings for a while–it is the history woven into the narrative that makes the words of this book too harsh for most children who fall within the normal picture book target age range (3-7). Many children are learning about racism and Jim Crow laws in the third grade so introducing this book to them to read at that age (8-9) would be appropriate and perhaps not too jarring. Although more appropriate for older children, the picture book format will help readers of all ages connect with the humanity of the Lovings’ journey and the impact historical inequities have on children. In this way, the illustrations reminiscent of a mosaic or family quilt, draw all readers—child and adult—closer to the emotional journey of the Loving family.
For those of us with children too young to hear the history recorded on these pages, the illustrations reflect the rainbow composition of many of our interracial families. Textured shapes (hearts, stars, butterflies, etc.) which look like construction paper or multi-colored newspaper cut-outs lend a child-inclusive celebrative sentiment to many of the illustrations. The Loving children are also in the majority of the illustrations interacting in ways that make it obvious that Richard and Mildred are their parents. Richard and Mildred, though serious-faced on some pages, and obviously sad on one page, are primarily drawn in moments of joy so pre-readers can make up a simple story of romantic love, parental love, and children playing, to accompany the illustrations. Significant for many of us who have no cohesive stories in picture book form depicting our fair-skinned, straight haired biracial children, through the illustrations, readers will experience one of only two picture books with strong narrative illustration that feature an interracial “black/white” family with a phenotypically “white” child.
And, as much as I am grateful for Peggy Loving’s presence on the page as Mildred and Richards’ daughter, the illustrations of son Donald and mom Mildred are problematic for me. In the renderings of this real life family, the illustrators had an opportunity to portray a family with children that inhabit a very wide spectrum of the human phenotype as is often the case amongst biracial siblings. To their credit, the authors do include a photo of the real Loving family at the back of the book. In that photo of the Loving family, we see that Sidney, the oldest son is a boy with milk chocolate complexion, curly hair, and full, Afro-multiracial features, Donald, the second son is a light olive-toned child with straight, dark hair and racially non-specific features, and Peggy, the daughter is a fair-skinned girl with straight, blond hair, blue-eyes and a Caucasian phenotype. While Peggy and Sidney are drawn accurately, Donald is illustrated as brown as his brother and all the children are described as “three different shades of milk chocolate brown”. Not only is this historically inaccurate, the mixed heritage children of the U.S. who are constantly overlooked because they are not brown enough to be chosen to represent the mixed community are all negated and done a disservice by this artistic choice.
While not discussed in the book, in real life, Sidney had to follow Jim Crow rules for blacks when in Virginia while Donald and Peggy attended white schools and followed the segregation rules set out for white people in public in Virginia. So, for any child who allows this book to spark their interest in the Loving family and do futher research, they will find that as a child, Donald and Peggy’s lives were significantly impacted by the fact that they were not any shade of milk chocolate. Mildred Loving is also illustrated as far darker than the creamy caramel that the authors use to describe her in the book and that she was in real life.
In illustrating the Loving family, Alko and Qualls had the power to render an historically accurate representation of the Loving family that would have reflected many members of the mixed race and so-called “Black” communities. It is disappointing that they chose to eschew that opportunity especially in a book targeted toward educating children, in part, about the many different compositions of family.
Despite the illustration’s pitfalls, The Case for Loving, through words, and more importantly through images, brings the reader into a close, sympathetic relationship with the children and parents of the Loving family.
As a story of U.S.American history, this is a book that every U.S.American should read but that every U.S.American child and parent in an interracial family of any composition needs to read. Although the book tells the story of the Lovings who happened to be a brown multiracial woman (Native American and Black U.S.American) and white man, who fought Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws all the way to the Supreme Court and won, thus eliminating the anti-miscegenation laws that still remained in place in sixteen states by 1967, interracial marriage between whites and people of any other race were illegal in various forms until the Lovings won their Supreme Court case. Therefore, the national legal status of all interracial marriages owes a debt of gratitude to the Lovings and the Supreme Court judges who recognized the human right to love and marry when deciding the case. Whether or not you have a child, this is a depthful, intimately told story of a historical journey that everyone should buy or check out of the library.
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
Recommendation: Highly Recommended
Ages: 8+ for reading; ages 2+ for pre-reading (illustration interpretation)