In the course of our lives there are places we hold within our memories for individual reasons. No matter how much time passes the beauty of a moment there and the collected sensory elements remain. It may be the first time we walk through the landscape of a natural monument like the rock formations in The Theodore Roosevelt National Park, stand within an architectural wonder such as The Library of Congress or stroll through a gallery of masterpieces at The Art Institute of Chicago.
Mondays, there were hogs to slop,
mules to train, and logs to chop.
Slavery was no ways fair.
Six more days to Congo Square.
For each day of the week, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday we become acquainted with the arduous tasks performed from daybreak to darkness in the first couplet. These slaves care for livestock, plow and plant crops, maintain entire households, preserve the buildings and landscaping, and provide child care. No job is too large or too small. They do it all.
The second couplet is a cry for freedom, an abolishment of slavery, followed by the counting of days until Congo Square can be visited. It gives voice to the conditions in which the slaves worked. It tells of no rest, severe punishment, songs lifted in prayer and running away.
Continuing with thirteen more verses we are told the never ending work of six days pauses. Sunday is different, a time when free people and slaves can meet in New Orleans at a specific place. There is dancing, music, the selling of wares, and the exchange of information. The customs of the land from which they came are kept alive. So is their hope for their bondage to be broken.
The poetic words, the rhyming couplets, written by Carole Boston Weatherford evoke a deep emotional response. The weight of the backbreaking, endless work grows heavier as the burdens are listed. When Weatherford follows with the counting of the days until Congo Square we see it as a small flame which grows as Sunday gets closer. The joy of those Sundays, those shared afternoons, bursts forth in the final phrases. Here are two more couplets.
Grouped by nation, language, tribe,
they drummed ancestral roots alive.
They played triangles, gourds, and bells,
banzas, flutes, fiddles, and shells.
Looking at the matching dust jacket and book case, readers are greeted by the bright, bold primary colors and green. The title text and stones for the square are raised on the dust jacket. The man dancing on the front is joined by two other men and a woman on the back, to the left. Their raised arms are an indication of the joy this time brings to them. A line of instruments are displayed along the top. The opening and closing endpapers are a loosely painted pattern of diamonds in golden yellow, red and black. This is also the background for the title page.
All of the illustrations rendered by R. Gregory Christie span across two pages, edge to edge. Those leading up to the Sunday celebration are heavier in the line work and darker in the hues of color. The perspectives are more panoramic alluding to the enormity of the slaves' position.
When the narrative shifts to Sunday, the viewpoint is more intimate, closer to the people. There is more warmth and lightness in the selected shades. The body postures and facial features express their true feelings.
One of my favorite illustrations is toward the back of the book. The background is awash in brush strokes of golden yellow. Three women and one man, two on the left and two on the right are dancing. The women's skirts flow about them as ankle bracelets and necklaces move to the beat of their tambourines. The fringe on the man's shirt flies away from his body almost like wings. I see several tiny hearts in the details. All of them are singing.
Freedom In Congo Square written by Carole Boston Weatherford with illustrations by R. Gregory Christie is a remarkable work of nonfiction bringing to light an important place in history. The writing and images work to create symphony of sound and soul. No professional or personal bookshelf should be without this book. An expert on Congo Square, Freddi Williams Evans supplies a two-age introduction. At the close of the book are a glossary and an author's note. Congo Square is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
If you wish to discover more about Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names. Two interior pages can be viewed at the publisher's website. Carole Boston Weatherford is interviewed at BrassyBrown.com There are also older video interviews at Reading Rockets.
Remember to visit educator Alyson Beecher's Kid Lit Frenzy to see the other titles selected by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge this week.