Between 1915 and 1970, more than six million African-Americans, seeking better opportunities and less white backlash, left the South for northern cities in a huge demographic shift known as The Great Migration. According to Isabel Wilkerson, the author of The Warmth of Other Suns, before the migration began some 90 percent of all African-Americans were living in the South, but by the end, nearly half of them were living in the large cities of the North and West.
This picture book is what the author calls a “fictive memoir” inspired by the imagined experiences of all those who made the historic trip north. A little girl living in Brooklyn whom you don’t meet until the end narrates this story in simple refrains set in two-page full-bleed color spreads. She starts by telling us about her grandmother, who found a rope to skip beneath an old tree a long time ago back home in South Carolina. This same rope is used to hold luggage on top of the car when the family migrates to New York; to serve as a laundry line for diapers when her mom was born; and to become a toy for her mom when she was a little girl.
Later, it served as a way for her mom to make new friends:
“This is the rope my mama held out to the girls on the block,
her new Brooklyn block, a home of their own
that they finally owned.”
When her mama goes to college, that old rope is used once again, to hold down the over-stuffed trunk of the car. It continues to have uses throughout the years until, at the very end:
“This is the rope, threadbare and graying,
that I traded with Grandma for a brand-new one.
Then I jumped a new jump:
B, my name is Beatrice, I come from Brooklyn…”
Grandma holds on to that original rope, a reminder of “back home” and of all the ways in which it helped bind the family together over the years.
The talented illustrator James Ransome uses soft lines and a stunning palette for his oil paintings that ably convey the love and warmth this family shares.
Evaluation: It’s hard to beat the combination of author Jacqueline Woodson and illustrator James Ransome. This book provides a lovely way to present to young children the upside and moving and change, and can also serve as an opening to teach them more about American history.
Published by Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2013