This is a somber and sobering collection of poems with illustrations which attempt to capture the kind of cruelty that nobody wants to explain to their children, but we have to, don’t we? Nelson writes, “Forget him not. Though if I could, I would / forget much of that racial memory,” and she writes with such charge, with such sorrow that sits in your mouth, the kind of sorrow that you don’t want to swallow because if you do, maybe you’d forget.
Marilyn Nelson remembers the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955; she was nine. Emmett was 14 years old, and the book, although strong enough for the minds of adults is gentle enough for a discussion with a bright, open child. The vocabulary is advanced, probably more suited for a pre-teen, but a smart 8 year old would be fine with the language. In fact, it could be a good vocabulary building book with phrases like parallel universe and terms like witness and atrocity.
While reading the piece I often wondered, is this the kind of thing you read with a child? And over and over the answer is yes. Nelson addresses this in her foreword, where she explains the form which her poems take, “Instead of thinking too much about the painful subject of lynching, I thought about…the strict form [and how it is] a way of protecting myself”. So would a parent have to delve into the harsh topic of lynching? Not unless you felt your child was ready for such a thing, but this book would still reach out to your child because children are smart and understanding. They have sadness and complications. They understand our sadnesses, our triumphs and sorrow, and although deep and dark, sadness must break to light. The illustrations in this book lend themselves to brightness, they call on those silver-lining moments, and they represent, just as Emmett Till does, innocence.
Recommendation: Recommended; Ages: mature 8 year olds – 14
Review by Rachelle Escamilla