Tuesday, June 6, 2017

June's Book of the Month--Freedom in Congo Square

June’s Book of the Month is the Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King Honor, Zolotow Award-winning, New York Times Best Illustrated book, FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE.

This moving collaboration from poet Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator R. Gregory Christie uses evocative rhyming couplets and vibrant art to describe a tradition begun by slaves in 1800s New Orleans which continues to this very day.

“Mondays there were hogs to slop, mules to train, and logs to chop.” Art and text portray slaves endlessly engaged in a wide variety of plantation tasks. “Week in, week out, from sun to sun,” slaves hoed, planted, bricked and baked according to the whims of their masters. Weatherford shows how life was defined by this relentless list of chores that “was no ways fair.” Readers will glimpse the toil, fear, and despair slaves experienced as they worked their way through the week, each day bringing them one step closer to Sunday and the promise of an afternoon “half free” in Congo Square.

According to a forward by Freddi Williams Evans and an author’s note by Weatherford, Sundays in Louisiana were holy days, when even slaves had time away from work. At first they were allowed to gather at various locations within New Orleans, but later were allotted one specific field just outside the city limits. In time, this became known as Congo Square. Enslaved Africans as well as their free counterparts met here to sing, dance and play traditional African music. While African language and even musical instruments were banned elsewhere in the United States, in Congo Square “African rhythms, culture, and customs had free expression and were preserved.” News was shared, goods bought and sold, and African religious beliefs practiced. Every Sunday afternoon, slaves came together in Congo Square for “a taste of freedom.”

Working in tandem with Weatherford’s words, Christie’s strong lines serve to keep his figures caged. His art reinforces how, from Monday through Saturday, these workers toiled with backs bent, confined to their jobs. But, come Sunday, his stiff, sharply-angled slaves metamorphose into long-limbed dancers. They whirl through Congo Square, bursting with color and life. Masks, drums, and other African motifs decorate the pages now, and even the type comes alive and swirls across the page.

Readers of all ages will find much to admire as they enjoy this gorgeous collaboration which celebrates what may well be the origins of jazz music in America.


No comments:

Post a Comment