Monday, October 31, 2011

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson

"Most folks my age and complexion don't speak much about the past," begins an aged narrator in Kadir Nelson's new book Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. "... No parent wants to tell a child that he was once a slave ..." Of course, the narrator does tell the story of blacks in the United States from 1565 when African laborers entered Florida with the Spanish colonists to the election of President Barack Obama. She explains slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the achievements of great leaders, such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Ida Wells, Duke Ellington, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King. Throughout, she expresses pride in her heritage.

Heart and Soul is an excellent introductory historical narrative. All the highlights of black history are recalled. What distinguishes Nelson's book, however, are his illustrations, many of which are of museum quality. His work reminds me not only of painters Thomas Hart Benton and George Caleb Bingham but also of photographers Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. Nelson is careful with authentic detail and packs a lot of emotion in each picture. I'd enjoy going to a Kadir Nelson exhibit.

Heart and Soul is intended as an introduction to black history for young readers, but I think we are all young enough to enjoy the book. Like his prize winning We Are the Ship, it should be in libraries everywhere.

Nelson, Kadir. Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. Balzer + Bray, 2011. ISBN 9780061730740.

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