Black History Month Kid Lit Review of “Like A Bird: The Art of the American Slave Song” by Cynthia Grady

The title of this collection of African American spirituals came from a story told by Harriet Tubman, the escaped slave who courageously returned to the South on some thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved families and friends.

As the author reports:

“Harriet Tubman, born into slavery around 1820, used to dream that she was flying over the landscape ‘like a bird.’”

The author further notes that while the lives of the enslaved were exceedingly difficult, they used music to help them “pace their movements, lift their spirits, and communicate with one another.”

The main portion of the book showcases thirteen spirituals along with visual interpretations of them by award-winning artist Michele Wood. The songs are shown with both music and lyrics, as well as brief descriptions of the backgrounds and meanings of the songs.

The spirituals selected are old, familiar favorites, at least to me. I remember singing them in elementary school (without being told, of course, that they were slave spirituals).

In contrast to the way picture books are usually made, it was the illustrator who had the concept for the book. She created 13 original acrylic paintings which she submitted to the author who then came up with the accompanying text.

At the end of the book, there are further notes about the lyrics, a glossary, and a selected bibliography.

Evaluation: This book offers a different approach to learning the history of the slave period in America, educating readers on art, music, religious influences, and symbolic elements in the songs.

Published by Millbrook Press, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, 2016

Spirituals include:

Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child
Ezekiel Saw the Wheel
Jacob’s Ladder
Michael, Row the Boat Ashore
Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen
Go Down, Moses
Get On Board – the Gospel Train
Deep River
Ain’t Gonna Study War No More
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho
Steal Away
Oh Peter, Go Ring Them Bells

About rhapsodyinbooks

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3 Responses to Black History Month Kid Lit Review of “Like A Bird: The Art of the American Slave Song” by Cynthia Grady

  1. mae says:

    You mentioned that you sang these songs in school without knowing that they were written by Black people yearning to be free. My memory of singing them in elementary school is that they were actually written in dialect and identified as Black Spirituals (or maybe the word they used then was Negro, which was the acceptable choice in the past). I can’t find the songbook we used, I think it was yellow or gold and had a cover with just printing on it — all the schools had it then.

    The images in your post are very beautiful! Wish I had a child to buy it for.

    best…mae at

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    This illustrations are gorgeous!

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