2 Picture Books about … family and migration

Within the first few pages of reading “The Keeping Quilt” this morning I was thinking about “This is the Rope.” It’s impossible not to make the comparison.

Both books tells stories of family and love by following an object that is passed down over generations. And both hint at larger histories of human migration.

First published in 1988, Patricia Polacco’s “The Keeping Quilt” is at this point a classic among picture books and comes from the real quilt and story of Polacco’s family. Jacqueline Woodson’s “This is the Rope,” is a more recent fictional work that I believe will one day be a classic.

The Keeping QuiltThe Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sweet (and true) story about the transformation of a young immigrant’s babushka into a quilt that is used at meals, weddings, births and more. The book spans several generations of a Russian Jewish family in America. Though the theme is continuity and connection, the small changes that happen to traditions over time and with human migration form a backdrop to the text and illustrations. The charcoal drawings, in which only the quilt gets a pop of color, are as timeless as Polacco’s quilt itself.

This Is the Rope: A Story From the Great MigrationThis Is the Rope: A Story From the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An intergenerational story of a family’s move from South Carolina to New York City. The narrative centers on a rope that is first used for skipping under a sweet-smelling pine in South Carolina, then for tying suitcases to the car, later for hanging laundry on a city block, and so on.
Jacqueline Woodson makes the historical context of the book clear in an author’s note describing the Great Migration:

From the early 1900s until the mid 1970s, more than 6 million African Americans moved from the rural South to northern cities. … We came for better jobs, better treatment, better education and better lives. … The rope we brought to this ‘new country’ was Hope.

The warm colors and soft focus of James Ransome’s oil illustrations evoke the familiarity of home, even as the characters move across states and neighborhoods.

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Congrats are in order

Time has gotten away from me. Well, not all time — the company I work for did a brand re-launch this fall, and I’ve been taking a class (on something other than writing),  so the fall was busy. Just not with blogging. The children’s book world has, of course, marched on without me, and there have been some exciting things happening in recent months.

First, Jacqueline Woodson, the fantastic author who I interviewed in my last post, won a National Book Award for “Brown Girl Dreaming.” The middle-grade novel is a memoir in verse about her childhood, split between South Carolina and New York City in the 1960s and ’70s, and the award is so, so deserved. You can watch her acceptance speech and reading of excerpts from the book here.

The big award moment was unfortunately marred by a racist comment by the presenter, Daniel Handler, a.k.a. Lemony Snicket. So in the midst of celebrating her accomplishments, Woodson also wrote a poignant op-ed in the New York Times about Handler’s remarks: “The Pain of the Watermelon Joke.”

Jacqueline Woodson speaks at Penn State Harrisburg in September 2014.

Jacqueline Woodson speaks at Penn State Harrisburg in September 2014.

The second and related piece of news to celebrate is the massive success of the We Need Diverse Books Campaign’s crowd-funding campaign. The campaign far surpassed its $100,000. The money will be used to:

  • bring diverse books and authors to disadvantaged schools
  • provide funds to help develop new diverse authors and artists
  • develop educational kits and a We Need Diverse Books app
  • launch a Kidlit Diversity Festival in D.C. in 2016
  • create paid publishing internships for diverse individuals

How cool is all of that? I’m proud to have supported the campaign and impressed by everyone else who did. I can’t wait to see what the campaign board (which includes Jacqueline Woodson) and volunteers roll out in the coming months and years!

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

Interview with Jacqueline Woodson, award-winning children’s author

I love this author - Jacqueline Woodson

If you know Jacqueline Woodson’s books, you love Jacqueline Woodson’s books. Her use of words to give birth to completely authentic characters puts me in awe. She’s written picture books, middle grade novels and YA. She’s won too many awards to name. Tomorrow, she’s speaking about her latest novel, “Brown Girl Dreaming,” a memoir in verse about her childhood, at a college in my area. Because of that, I had the incredible fortune of interviewing her for an article for my newspaper, and now I’m posting the full text of the interview below.

Woodson (who I really want to refer to as J. Wood, like J. Law, but I don’t know that that’s a thing) is on the board for the We Need Diverse Books campaign, which if you don’t already know about, you need to go check out now. Actually, you should read this interview, and then go check it out.

KN: What does diversity in children’s literature mean? Why is it so important?

JW: It means all kinds of books being available for all kinds of children.  It’s important because children need to see reflections of themselves as well as representations of other kinds of people in literature.  This helps this not only feel like they’re a legitimate part of society (not invisible) but also helps them understand the bigger world and the greater good and begin to learn empathy, tolerance, understanding, etc.

KN: Did the outpouring of support for the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign this year surprise you?

JW: I was very happy by the response but not surprised.  People have been saying this for a long time — It’s great that other people are beginning to hear it.

KN: A Publisher’s Weekly article about the diverse books panel at BookCon quoted you as as saying publishers pigeonhole and promote books as “issue-related” or “about a black kid” or “about a gay kid,” and that we need to talk differently about books. How do you describe your books?

JW: My books are about people.  People who are trying to figure out who they are becoming, where they’re going and how they’re going to get there.

KN: Whether it’s a little girl who’s sick of hearing about “that ding-dang baby” sibling on the way or a teenager addicted to meth, you do an incredible job developing your characters’ distinct voices. How do you get into their heads?

JW: I start with their hearts — I believe even though so much of us is different — skin color, economic class, family make up, etc – -In our hearts, we all long for the same thing — to love, to be loved.

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