Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin




Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Rhythmic Heartbeat Of A Child

During childhood our words form into chants, songs, rhymes, sayings, poems and stories.  When learned by heart from daily use, we carry them into adulthood.  They are passed from one generation to the next generation, their rhythmic memories echoing through the ages.

As an integral part of our culture, they shape us.  Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs & Stories from an African American Childhood (Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, January 10, 2017) collected by Patricia C. McKissack with illustrations by Brian Pinkney is a treasury of tradition and history.  It is an astounding resource.

Our earliest toys are our hands, feet, and voices.  When we are babies, our wiggling fingers, curling toes, kicking legs, and flexing fists, combined with our squeals of wonder and surprise, provide us with hours of challenging and entertaining play while helping us develop basic learning skills.

After an introduction nine chapters take us into the past and bring us to the present.  They also provide an invitation for a future full of fun.  These hand claps, jump rope rhymes and games, circle games and ring shouts, songs inspired by the Underground Railroad, spirituals, hymns, and Gospel music, proverbs, psalms and parables, superstitions, fables and Mama sayings, performance pieces inspired by African American writers and folktales and storytelling not only bring together African American children and

have provided a connecting thread among people of color throughout the world  

but reach out a unifying and universal hand to all children.

How many can remember Patty Cake?  Did you know there are more than thirty variations?  It would have been wonderful as a child to have been taught to hand clap to the nursery rhyme Solomon Grundy or to transform Little Anthony and the Imperials song Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko Bop (1960) into an original hand clap.  Jumping rope alone and hot pepper or double Dutch jumping is both a challenge and a joy with these songs.  Gather in the round to the sound of song, clapping and stomping--ring shouts.

Songs guided slaves toward freedom with words having more than one meaning.  In 1871 a group called the Jubilee Singers from Fisk University gathered spirituals sung in the South during slavery.  Gospel songs, a form of worship music, are a blend of enthusiastic voices raised in melody and shouts and body movements.  They praise Jesus as portrayed in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Comparisons to proverbs from other cultures are made to those of African American sayings, supplying us with the sure knowledge we are the same in wisdom.

Native American Saying
Be satisfied with the needs instead of the wants.
African American Saying
There's nothing better than enough.

Biblical psalms and parables serve as a foundation for spiritual thinking.  Superstitions, fables and sayings from mothers abound in every culture guiding, protecting and asking children to stop and think.  Have you ever played Porch School?

Literary giants were featured by children who were "on program".  Pieces were memorized and recited.  A gift handed down from parents to children and them to their children is the art of telling a good story beginning with Anansi and how he came to possess all stories and ending with children's favorite, a scary story.  A lifetime, many lifetimes, are held in these pages waiting for release by readers.


For each of the chapters Patricia C. McKissack has written an introduction providing a basis and personal context for her selections.  She informs us of the histories attached to each of the individual choices within each chapter.  The information she includes is absolutely fascinating for readers of all ages.  We are able to enjoy multiple versions.  Her writing style for this book is as if we are sitting on her front porch gathered together as she shares her years composed of claps, stomps, circles, shouts, rope jumping, songs, sayings, African American literature and stories.  Here is a chant for three rope jumpers.

I Know
(Begin with three jumpers.)
I know something,
But I won't tell;
Three little monkeys
In a peanut shell.
One can read.
(One jumper leaps out.)
One can dance.
(The second jumper leaps out.)
And one has a hole
In the seat of his pants.
(The third jumper leaps outs.) 


Don't you want to start singing, jumping and dancing when you look at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case?  The art of Brian Pinkney rendered throughout this title with watercolor and India ink on Strathmore watercolor paper flows with energy.  To the left, on the back, a single smaller picture features four children, arms raised and mouths open in song.  They are placed above a list of some of the titles showcased in this book.  A deeper sky blue seen in some of the lines on the front of the jacket and case covers the opening and closing endpapers.

Brian states in an illustrator's note at the beginning how his memories of these selections guided his work.  There is much joy in every single line and brush stroke placed on the heavier, matte-finished paper.  His color palette leans to warm and more pastel shades, although his black and white images are equally ready to leap off the pages.

Every chapter begins with a full page picture.  Nearly every page has one illustration.  At times a visual will cross the gutter.  His interpretation of Patricia's selections is striking and memorable.

One of my many favorite illustrations is for the chapter Turn About: Jump Rope Rhymes And Games.  Beneath the text a boy, eyes closed in concentration and a smile on his face, is leaping over a rope.  He holds the ends of the rope in his hands.  His feet are kicked up behind him.  You can't look at this picture without smiling or laughing along with the boy.


I read this book in a single sitting.  Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs & Stories from an African American Childhood collected by Patricia C. McKissack with illustrations by Brian Pinkney is one of those rich and rare books which will be a resource and source of happiness for generations.  Everyone will find connections in this book to their own personal childhoods.  At the close of the book Patricia C. McKissack includes Acknowledgments, Notes for each chapter and a Bibliography for each chapter along with an Index.

To discover more about Patricia C. McKissack and Brian Pinkney and their other work please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Several pages of interior artwork are shared by author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  You will want to read through this review and conversation with McKissack at Kirkus.

Although this book is far longer than a nonfiction picture book, I choose to feature it for my choice as a participant in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  This challenge is hosted by educator Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.  Take a few minutes to view the titles chosen by other participants this week.


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