The strength of this telling is the way it encourages readers to empathize with Madison’s plight, making it a solid entry in...

MY NAME IS JAMES MADISON HEMINGS

The life of James Madison Hemings, believed by most scholars to be one of several children Thomas Jefferson had with enslaved Sally Hemings, is imagined in this picture book of historical fiction.

James Madison Hemings looks back at his childhood as an enslaved person at Monticello. As he grows up he learns Jefferson is his father, but this connection is never to be acknowledged. Madison, as he is referred to in historical accounts, relates how the unspoken relationship affects his and his siblings’ lives: where they live, what they learn, and ultimately their freedom. “And yet, my name was written in my father’s ‘Farm Book’—the ledger where he recorded all his property.” In this first-person narrative, a child’s confused attempts to make sense of his situation ring true. Winter creates a tone of secrecy and distance in a place where no one is allowed to speak truth. Widener’s acrylic illustrations with their pastoral palette contribute to this with stillness, though they are not static. The many images of Madison as an observer of his surroundings reflect the fact he was the only one of Sally Hemings’ children to leave a written record of his life, a major source for Winter’s story. The detailed author’s note will be a welcome resource for adults, guiding them in answering young readers’ questions.

The strength of this telling is the way it encourages readers to empathize with Madison’s plight, making it a solid entry in that class of picture books tackling tough topics. (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-38342-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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Celebrated collaborators deliver another thoughtful delight, revealing how “making marks” links us across time and space.

CAVE PAINTINGS

A trip to grandmother’s launches light-years beyond the routine sort, as a human child travels from deep space to Earth.

The light-skinned, redheaded narrator journeys alone as flight attendants supply snacks to diverse, interspecies passengers. The kid muses, “Sometimes they ask me, ‘Why are you always going to the farthest planet?’ ”The response comes after the traveler hurtles through the solar system, lands, and levitates up to the platform where a welcoming grandmother waits: “Because it’s worth it / to cross one universe / to explore another.” Indeed, child and grandmother enter an egg-shaped, clear-domed orb and fly over a teeming savanna and a towering waterfall before disembarking, donning headlamps, and entering a cave. Inside, the pair marvel at a human handprint and ancient paintings of animals including horses, bison, and horned rhinoceroses. Yockteng’s skilled, vigorously shaded pictures suggest references to images found in Lascaux and Chauvet Cave in France. As the holiday winds down, grandmother gives the protagonist some colored pencils that had belonged to grandfather generations back. (She appears to chuckle over a nude portrait of her younger self.) The pencils “were good for making marks on paper. She gave me that too.” The child draws during the return trip, documenting the visit and sights along the journey home. “Because what I could see was infinity.” (This book was reviewed digitally with 9.8-by-19.6-inch double-page spreads viewed at 85% of actual size.)

Celebrated collaborators deliver another thoughtful delight, revealing how “making marks” links us across time and space. (Picture book. 5-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77306-172-6

Page Count: 52

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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A life devoted to freedom and dignity, worthy of praise and remembrance.

MUMBET'S DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

With the words of Massachusetts colonial rebels ringing in her ears, a slave determines to win her freedom.

In 1780, Mumbet heard the words of the new Massachusetts constitution, including its declaration of freedom and equality. With the help of a young lawyer, she went to court and the following year, won her freedom, becoming Elizabeth Freeman. Slavery was declared illegal and subsequently outlawed in the state. Woelfle writes with fervor as she describes Mumbet’s life in the household of John Ashley, a rich landowner and businessman who hosted protest meetings against British taxation. His wife was abrasive and abusive, striking out with a coal shovel at a young girl, possibly Mumbet’s daughter. Mumbet deflected the blow and regarded the wound as “her badge of bravery.” Ironically, the lawyer who took her case, Theodore Sedgwick, had attended John Ashley’s meetings. Delinois’ full-bleed paintings are heroic in scale, richly textured and vibrant. Typography becomes part of the page design as the font increases when the text mentions freedom. Another slave in the Ashley household was named in the court case, but Woelfle, keeping her young audience in mind, keeps it simple, wisely focusing on Mumbet.

A life devoted to freedom and dignity, worthy of praise and remembrance. (author’s note, selected bibliography, further reading) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7613-6589-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Carolrhoda

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2013

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