Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Heads Turned. People Stopped And Listened.

Every single being is born with a gift.  It might not initially be noticed, but what we do with this gift defines us.  It's how we make our mark in this world.  Hopefully spirits will be lifted and the quality of life of those around us will be better.

In 1936 there was a girl child born in Texas.  What Do You Do With A Voice Like That?: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, September 25, 2018) written by Chris Barton with illustrations by Ekua Holmes presents a stirring account of this child.  She understood the good her gift would (and did) bring to others.

Growing up in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas,
Barbara Jordan stood out.

It wasn't because of the way she looked or acted.  It was because of her voice.  Her voice commanded immediate attention from all who heard it.  She used this voice in church, school and contests.  At the age of sixteen she left Texas for the first time traveling to Chicago as the winner of an oratory competition.

Barbara received counsel from Grandpa Patten during their weekly chats.  With her voice she could do many things but first she needed to go to college.  Through hard work and long hours, she became a lawyer.  The practice of law left her wanting more so when given an opportunity, Barbara lifted her voice.  She believed the best place to create change was politics.

Did she win the first time she ran for office? No.  Did she win the second time she ran for office? No.  She won the third time!  Working as a senator for the state of Texas she knew she could make changes in laws to help those who needed it the most.  Inside and outside the legislative chambers, she spoke and other lawmakers respectively listened.

In 1972 Barbara Jordan went to work in Washington, D. C. as a congresswomen.  She spoke truths about the United States Constitution and how everyone, yes everyone, needed to obey the laws founded on this document.  President Nixon resigned. (I remember listening to her powerful speech.)

Barbara continued fighting for peoples' rights as speculation began about the next office she would hold, but there would be no more politics for her. A debilitating disease, multiple sclerosis, had her going home to Texas.  Barbara took her wondrous, wise voice to classrooms and sporting events.  Even today her words still ring out loud and strong reflected in every life she touched.

For those who have never heard the resounding voice of Barbara Jordan, author Chris Barton through his writing sends its power off the pages of this book into our minds and hearts.  Through his meticulous research he allows us to understand the impact of her influence.  Portions of her life are tied together with a question at the end of paragraphs and phrases.  These lead us to her many accomplishments. By repeating key words, connections are made and a cadence is created.  Here is a passage.

That voice.

That big, bold, booming, crisp, clear, confident voice.
It caused folks to sit right up, stand up straight, and take notice.

What do you do with a voice like that?

Just like the voice of Barbara Jordan, the image on the front of the dust jacket stops readers in their tracks. Who is this woman with this voice?  The contrast of the blue face holding many faces of Barbara on radiating yellow is bold and dynamic. To the left, on the back, a collage of swaths of color and words further describes the powerful personality of Barbara Jordan.

Like rays of sunshine, golden yellow on golden yellow, lines stretch from the spine on the book case.  White and yellow stars are scattered among words like democracy, freedom, and the great principles of right and wrong. A vivid sky blue covers the opening and closing endpapers.  The blue and yellow palette is used for the text and background on the title page.

Rendered in mixed media the illustrations of Ekua Holmes are individual portraits of an amazing woman throughout her life; each one worthy of framing.  They vary in size, sometimes spanning two pages, or nearly two pages leaving a place for the text.  Other times individual elements are outlined in large amounts of white space.

Each visual elevates the narrative and tells its own story.  The details of clothing worn by Barbara (and others) and her facial expressions in each setting bring us into the moments. The layout of every single element in each picture is superb as is the light and shadow in those items.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when Barbara stepped forward to speak when circumstances called for her help.  The picture is a full page on the right crossing the gutter and filling a third of the left page.  Triangular shapes like beams of light in yellows and oranges with a tinge of green extend from the top with square-dotted spirals in white.  Barbara's back is to us.  Her arms are outstretched on either side.  A pearl necklace circles her neck.  A paisley-print dress in pink, purple and blue drapes her frame.  A faceless audience listens in front of her.

I can't imagine a personal or professional collection of books without a copy of What Do You Do With A Voice Like That: The Story Of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan written by Chris Barton with illustrations by Ekua Holmes on their shelves.  This fresh, vibrant depiction in a stunning blend of words and images will promote discussions and further research.  An author's note, timeline, and recommended viewing and reading is found on the final three pages.

To learn more about Chris Barton and Ekua Holmes and their other work, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Chris and Ekua maintain accounts on TwitterChris and Ekua also have accounts on Instagram.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Chris Barton wrote an article at the Nerdy Book Club about this title.  Chris recommends you listen to Barbara Jordan's 1974 speech during the House Judiciary Committee presidential impeachment hearings.

Please take a few minutes to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to enjoy the titles selected by others participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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