Grady, Cynthia. Like a Bird: The Art of the American Slave Song. Michele Wood, Illus. Nonfiction. Millbrook, 09/2016. 40pp. PLB $19.99. 978-1-4677-8550-1. OUTSTANDING. GRADES 4-6.
The book opens with a brief introduction to the origins of the slave songs and their evolution into spirituals. Each double page spread includes a song with sheet music, an acrylic painting illustrating the song, and text explaining its historical context and biblical imagery. Each of the paintings contains at least one white dove, symbolizing the longing for freedom. Often, the commentary asks questions that invite readers to look more closely at the paintings and think more deeply about the meaning of the lyrics. The center spread is one painting—Wood’s interpretation of the spiritual, “Get on Board the Gospel Train,” featuring Harriet Tubman at the head of a train following the North Star. Tubman’s story gets the most space in this book. Among the other historical figures covered in the commentary are Nat Turner, James Lafayette, and abolitionist John Rankin. The paintings, like the songs they illustrate, are both beautiful and somber. Though they soar with hope, there are no smiles, except for the illustration to the last of the 13 songs, “Oh, Peter, Go Ring Them Bells,” which marks the end of the Civil War. There are other books about spirituals written for elementary-aged children, but none have the breadth of this one. It will be useful for music, art, and history educators. Back matter contains notes about the making of the book, lyrics to the songs, glossary, suggestions for further reading, and websites.
Nancy Vitavec, Solano County Library