Black History Month Kid Lit Review of “This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration” by Jacqueline Woodson

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.

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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.

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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…”

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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.

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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.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2013

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6 Responses to Black History Month Kid Lit Review of “This Is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration” by Jacqueline Woodson

  1. sandynawrot says:

    I realize that this is a different type of book than she normally writes, but I love anything she does.

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    That looks like an excellent book. I think it could start some great conversations.

  3. I enjoy Woodson’s writing

  4. Kailana says:

    I went through a stage where I was reading Jacqueline Woodson all the time… Then I ran out of books by her to get from the library and I haven’t read her since. Must remedy that!

  5. What a great combination of author and illustrator!

  6. stacybuckeye says:

    Love the illustrations!

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