Carole Boston Weatherford's Voice of Freedom--Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
illustrated by Bryan Collier
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Author Carole Boston Weatherford knows the power of I.
By writing this free verse account of the life of hymn-singing activist Fannie Lou Hamer in the first person singular, as Hamer, Weatherford manages to bring this sorely missed hero of the civil rights movement back to life.
(The words aren't all Weatherford's. She uses italics to signal when the precise words are Hamer's own.)
Weatherford has Hamer "tell" her life story sequentially, in a series of poems, beginning in Sunflower County, Mississippi, where Fannie Mae is born - the youngest of 20 children - to sharecropper parents.
How much of a dead end was sharecropping presumed to be? The plantation owner paid Hamer's parents fifty dollars "for producing a future field hand."
The author doesn't have to do anything more than tell the truth to depict the unfairness of the Jim Crow era. In the poem Fair, the story is told of a white neighbor who poisoned the family's three cows - "couldn't stand to see black people getting ahead."
As Hamer grows, her keen sense of injustice and selflessness led her down many a dangerous path. She sought not only to vote in an era of poll taxes and literacy tests but to run for office.
She was brutally beaten (by police) and shot at for her efforts. But Weatherford paints a picture of a woman whose righteous indignation on behalf of others gave her no choice but to do the things she did.
The book feels very much like a first person history of the civil rights movement. Weatherford did her homework; Voice of Freedom features 26 source notes, as well as a time line of Hamer's life side interspersed with key moments in America's racial history.
First time picture book illustrator Ekua Holmes won a Caldecott Honor for her efforts here.
Her stunning collages work on a basic tell-the-story level but also invite readers to look still deeper on a second or third pass through the book.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement works beautifully as a personal, heartfelt introduction to a painful era and a great woman who played a small but significant part in it.
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