Monday, September 30, 2013

This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome

This story follows a piece of rope's journey with a family as they move from South Carolina to New York City during the Great Migration of many African American families in the 20th century and how a piece of rope becomes the red thread running through a family and binding them together for three generations.

This is the Rope is narrated by an unknown little girl (perhaps Woodson as a child), whose grandmother finds a length of rope under a tree in South Carolina and at first, uses it as a jump rope.  Later, as a young married woman with a daughter of her own, the rope is used to tie her family's belongings to the top of their car as they make their journey from South Carolina to New York City.

The city is noisy and crowded, but the rope is again put to use.  First, to dry the flowers grown in a window box. later as a clothesline to dry diapers.  And when the narrator's mother is old enough, the rope is tied around a pull toy for her.  Then, it becomes a jump rope again, when her mother makes friends with the other kids on the block.  But, the rope disappears for 10 years after her mother's brothers used it for a game.

But the rope was found and once again, used to tie belongings to the top of the car when the narrator's mother goes to college.

Later, the narrator's father teaches her how to make a knot with the rope and when her mother becomes a turner, the rope is once more a jump rope, coming full circle. But the rope still has one final task when it is used to hang the banner in the park announcing the family's reunion.

After its long journey and varied uses over time, the rope gets old and threadbare and so it is returned to the grandmother - a reminder of her past and how far the family has come since she jumped rope under a sweet smelling pine tree in South Carolina.  And so, a new rope was given to the narrator - a new rope for new uses and new memories.

I have read This Is the Rope several times now and each time it has brought tears to my eyes.  It never ceases to amaze me how well Woodson can tell a story using such sparse language,  and once again, she has given us a beautifully written, eloquent book.

The story is enriched by the stunningly beautiful oil paint illustrations of the very talented James Ransome.  Ransome gives a sense a country and rural life in his choice of orange and yellows predominantly for the South Carolina illustrations, but using bolder colors for the city infusing the illustrations with the sense of hustle and bustle, buildings and crowded streets.

This Is the Rope really struck a cord with me and I am sure that it will probably resonate with almost everyone who reads it, simple because so many have a treasured object like the rope that connects and recalls our family's past.

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL


  1. Pardon the pun, but I really do love the way the author has cleverly tied the family connections to the rope. Most of us don't take the time to analyze the coincidences.

    1. I know what you mean, but the pun is hard to resist.

  2. Such a very simple idea but clever too, I’m sure I would enjoy it. Thank you for sharing it.


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