Title: Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans
Author/Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Pages: 108 pages
Publisher/Date: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2011.
Awards: Won Coretta Scot King Author Award, 2012
Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, 2012
Most folks my age and complexion don’t speak much about the past. Sometimes it’s just too hard to talk about–nothing we like to share with you young folk. No parent wants to tell a child that he was once a slave and made to do another man’s bidding. Or that she had to swallow her pride and take what she was given, even though she knew it wasn’t fair. Our story is chock-full of things like this. Things that might make you cringe, or feel angry. But there are also parts that will make you proud, or even laugh a little. You gotta take the good with the bad, I guess. You have to know where you come from so you can move forward.” (7)
Just as the subtitle says, this is the story of America and African Americans. Narrated by a family matriarch, she takes readers back in time to her grandfather’s time, when he was taken on a slave ship to serve on a plantation, and proceeds to tell her family’s story all the way to present day. Covering the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, both World Wars and the Great Depression, she concludes with the Civil Rights marches and an epilogue that discusses the accomplishments that movement brought.
Kadir Nelson’s work is a force to be reckoned with. He has been recognized by the Coretta Scott King Book Award Committee a total of five times, but I think this surpasses everything I’ve seen of his. The book is formatted and designed to mimic a photo album, with the cover artwork framed out with scrollwork. The double page spreads primarily consist of one full-page picture and a page of corresponding text. Generous white space, short chapters, and the conversational tone make the book a very quick read, and readers will feel like their listening to their own grandmother telling the story of her youth.
You’ll really need to go through it a second time to truly appreciate the detailed artwork, ranging from unoccupied landscapes to crowded scenes. Nelson even includes imitations of some iconic portraits like Martin Luther King’s Jr. address on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Interspersed throughout the book are a handful of double page illustrations that really bring readers to a halt. The book could be called a pictorial history book or narrative nonfiction, but in any case it’s a stunning portrayal of history.