Faith Ringgold's Tar Beach
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Quilting a better world from imagination
I will always remember when the stars fell down around me and lifted me up above the George Washington Bridge.
So starts this beautiful book, which began life as a quilt and resides in the permanent collection of New York's Guggenheim Museum. One hears a hint of the artist in autobiography when the narrator says,
Anyone can fly. All you need is somewhere to go that you can't get to any other way.
Author-illustrator Ringold clearly knows personally the power of imagination.
The story takes place in 1939, when the narrator, Cassie Louise Lightfoot, is 8. Many of her summer nights are spent dining on "Tar Beach" - an apartment rooftop - with her family and some neighbor friends.
Under the night sky, Cassie imagines a better, fairer life for her family, one where, for instance, race doesn't prevent her father from joining the union.
When Cassie flies, everything is hers. That George Washington Bridge becomes a diamond necklace she can wear. The union building becomes something she can give to her father, so he'll no longer be subject to its whims.
Author-illustrator Ringgold earned a Caldecott Honor in 1992 for this beautiful book (completed in quilt form in 1988, as the first of five in her "Woman on a Bridge" series).
A picture of the quilt appears at the end of the story, before a well-worth-reading statement about Ms. Ringgold and her work.
Tar Beach is less traditional narrative than simply a young girl's telling of how she's found a healthy refuge in her mind from life's inevitable unpleasantnesses and disappointments. As we read, we feel we're witnessing the birth of an artist.
More Caldecott honorees.
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