February is Black History Month so here’s a heads-up to grab both of these fantastic titles now!
To help with that, I’m giving away my copy of one of them — Fancy Party Gowns! Details are at the end of today’s post.
Freedom Over Me, written and illustrated by Ashley Bryan published in 2016 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
This powerful, visually-stunning, labor of love by one of our national treasures, Ashley Bryan, is guaranteed to make an impact on you and your children.
I read the Author’s Note first, even though it’s at the back of the book, and recommend you do that for some context. In it, Bryan tells how he “acquired a collection of slave-related documents” and went about focusing on one of them — an estate appraisal from 1828 detailing the valuation of eleven slaves among other assorted commodities: hogs, cotton, a cheap handmill.
Bryan uses his imagination, his long years of life and learning, and his very soul, to bring these people to life for us, giving them faces, histories, talents, sorrows, and dreams. And what magnificent faces. Strong as oaks. The sinewy, rich, wood grain whorls in these faces are at once a testament to the stalwart nature of these oppressed individuals, of their glory as human beings, and at the same time a reminder of how they were treated inhumanely, like a stick of furniture to be casually bought or sold.
Just let it sink in that someone could kidnap a child from her home, drag her across the world in the hell-hold of a ship, stick her on an auction block to be prodded and poked and crassly appraised like a cow, and sold, resold, worked, beaten, all to increase the value of a wealthy man’s property. Imagine this happening to your precious child.
Bryan spins free verse depictions of eleven unique persons and the situations they landed in — cooking fancy meals, sewing elaborate ball gowns, tending gardens, weaving artistic baskets for their masters, all the while feeling that sting of loss, the tug of homesickness, the burning desire for freedom and dignity.
Each of these folks also tells us his dreams — dreams of remembrance and dreams for the future. Bryan illustrates these pages in a bloom of radiant color, an unleashing of the richness each possesses.
Don’t miss this extraordinary work, for ages 4 through Adult.
Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe, written by Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Laura Freeman published in 2016 by little bee books
Just look at that stunning cover! The artistry of Ann Cole Lowe is on full display in this lovely book introducing us to “the first African American woman to become a designer of couture clothing.”
Here was a woman who persevered through tremendous odds, early tragedy, segregation, discrimination, and an abysmal lack of recognition due to her skin color. Yet she “thought about what she could do, not what she couldn’t change” and propelled herself to the top.
Lowe grew up with a needle and thread in hand, learning the dressmaking trade from her mother, then attending a New York design school.
Despite all the obstacles she faced, her elegant gowns attracted the attention of the rich and famous, including young Jackie Bouvier who requested Ms. Lowe to create the gown for her wedding to John F. Kennedy. What a fairy tale confection!
Lowe went on to create gorgeous ball gowns for Academy Awards stars and millionaires’ wives, yet her name remained relatively unknown, all because of her race. What an odd, sorry phenomenon racism is.
Thrumming with vivid color, lavish textures, and the boldness of Lowe herself, Laura Freeman’s illustrations are utterly captivating. A treat for ages 4 and up, this book just hit the shelves a couple of weeks ago. And…
Thanks to the generosity of little bee books, I’ve got a sweet, hardbound copy to give away!
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