Sunday, February 26, 2017

Three Picture Books about The Great Migration

The Great Migration was a historical transformation in which over six million African Americans left the farmlands and cotton fields of the rural south for better jobs in the industrialized north between 1916 and 1970. It began when America entered WWI, and northern factories and plants needed to replace workers who had left to fight overseas. Migration of African Americans slowed down during the Great Depression, but increased again once the US entered WWII. The Great Migration is an important part of Black history and below are three picture books that allow young readers to understand the experience of those courageous people who chose to pick up stakes and move away from the south, in the hope of a better life.
The Great Migration: An American Story
Paintings by Jacob Lawrence
"Migration" a poem by Walter Dean Myers
HarperCollins, 1993, 48 pages, age 5+
A few years ago, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) has an exhibit called "One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North." It was the first time that all 60 paintings by Lawrence were shown together, as they should be, in over 20 years. The small paintings, done in tempura or gesso on composition board, and originally called "The Migration of the Negro," tell a formidable story when looked at sequentially, and I have to say it was one of the most powerful exhibits I have ever seen.

All 60 of Lawrence's paintings have been reproduced in this picture book for young readers, accompanied by his text telling the story of the great migration. Lawrence, whose family had migrated north as part of the migration, worked on the paintings from 1940 to 1941 at the age of 22, painting the panels all at once, so that the color palette would be the same throughout the series (and, it is). The images are done in a folk art style, but there is nothing simple about them. Although the book loses some of the textural greatness of the paintings, they are still a moving testament to this unique African American experience. The book closes with a fitting poem called "Migration"by Walter Dean Myers.
This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration
by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome
Nancy Paulson Books, 2013, 32 pages, 5+ 
Narrated by an unnamed young African American girl, this book tells the story of a single length of rope given to her by her grandmother and used as a jump rope, then later used to tie the family's belongings to the car when they moved from South Carolina to New York City, where it becomes a jump rope again. The rope continues to be used by the family whenever needed, until it is too threadbare to use anymore. It is finally returned to the grandmother who found it so many years ago in South Carolina. Woodson uses an ordinary length of rope both literally and metaphorically to tie the four generations in the story to one another over time and place. Ransome's bright oil paintings, done in a palette of yellows, browns and oranges, continue the story line in his realistic illustrations that include very timely details from each generation. Be sure to take the time explore the illustrations.
The Great Migration: Journey to the North 
by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
Amistad Press, 2010, 26 pages, age 5+
In a series of free-verse poems, Greenfield chronicles the great migration through the eyes of those who have decided to leave their homes in the south and to head north for a better life. The poems are written chronically, beginning with news about life up north, away from the fear and violence of the Ku Klux Klan. It is followed by a number of poems exploring the mixed feelings of those who have decided to make the move. Each person is left unnamed, identified only as, for example, man, woman, boy and girl, giving them a somewhat Everyman persona, even as they are personalized by expressing their feelings about leaving.  At the center is a lone poem called "The Trip." It details the train ride and what the riders experienced as they leave everything familiar behind them.  This is followed by a poem that speaks to the fears of the travelers about having made the right decision, as they arrive at their destination. The last poem, "My Family"is the most personal poem, a tribute to the author's family and their move north when she was only 3 months old. Gilchrist's mixed-media collage illustrations perfectly compliment the Greenfield's poems. You will notice, as you explore these details illustrations, that she has incorporated faces taken from photographs into them. And do explore each page, as there is so much to notice and talk about.

If you are looking for more information on The Great Migration, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which is part of the New York Public Library, produced an excellent, in-depth online presentation in 2005 that you can find HERE


1 comment:

  1. I've read "This Is the Rope." and found it quite touching. These other two titles look fascinating!


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