JUDGE – ELLEN OH
|Freedom in Congo Square
By Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
|March: Book Three
by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
Top Shelf Productions
I feel a great and heavy burden on my shoulders as I find myself trying to compare these two brilliant books. Two completely different books that were almost impossible to compare. This was torturous! Where would I even start? Perhaps where they were similar? Okay, I’ll start there.
Well they both:
- Moved me deeply and brought me to tears.
- Made me appreciate the resilience of human spirit over suffering.
- Brought a shameful part of history to life in ways that I shall never forget.
I want to start with Freedom in Congo Square because there is something perfect about the execution of this picture book. I have always admired the picture book form. I find that the best picture books stand out in ways that the best adult literature could never compete with. The best picture books tell the most compelling story in the least amount of words but rich with vivid imagery that leaps off of the pages and into our hearts. That is what Freedom in Congo Square does.
“Freedom was slaves’ ardent prayer,
One more day to Congo Square.”
There’s no sugarcoating the evils of slavery here. No mistaking the gravity of a slave’s life. The simple rhymes perfectly underscore remarkable pictures that capture the immediacy of life as a slave. In the clearest of language and deeply emotional art, Freedom in Congo Square is a clear example of how the picture book format can be a work of true literary art. This is a book that I feel strongly should be in every school library in the country. It brilliantly explains slavery for the youngest reader to understand. And it also makes clear that Freedom in Congo Square is not just about a half day off from the oppression of work, but the true taste of freedom itself.
From a perfect picture book to a perfect graphic novel, SLJ is clearly trying to make life as difficult as possible.
March: Book Three, is more than a book. More than a graphic novel. It is a reminder to all of us that history really does repeat itself and that our greatest mistakes are when we forget the sins of the past. The first time I read March: Book Three was last year during the height of the campaign season. I remember staring at the angry mob faces on the black and white pages of my book and looking up to see angry mob faces live on my television screen. I remember the tears that would not stop as the dawning horror of what was happening struck me so vividly. March is history blended in a perfect pairing of text and imagery that strikes a reader with a visceral reaction to events long past and yet reminds us of the urgent immediacy of current events. It is a testament to the strength and resilience of the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. The work is powerful, not only for its extraordinary storytelling, but for its chilling timeliness.
So how do you choose a winner between two such different and yet brilliant books? The true answer is that you can’t. But for now I can only choose the book that I think should move on to the next round. and for that, I must choose March: Book Three. I must choose the timely book. The brilliant and necessary book that will resonate with and inspire generations of readers and equal rights activists. It is a historical book that is also a book of our times. There is truly nothing like it. March.
I’d argue that Freedom in Congo Square is also very timely, and possibly more important to promote through BoB. Why? March: Book Three has gotten tons of press already, while Freedom in Congo Square has gotten a lot for a picture book, but much less than March: Book Three. Just look at the Google Search results, with the titles written in quotation marks: Weatherford’s masterpiece has 13,400 results, while the third installment in Lewis’ epic story has 34,300. (Without quotation marks, it’s 503,000 for Freedom in Congo Square and 564,000,000 for March: Book Three!) Lewis’ story is hugely important, but already well known; the slaves of Congo Square have largely disappeared from history. Both tell stories of resilience against oppression, but Freedom in Congo Square reminds us that the struggle – which continues and heightens today – began over a hundred years before Lewis marched on Washington.
The heroes of the Civil Rights Movement are already highly lauded – although their views and actions are often distorted, and Lewis deserves more attention – but scary things can happen when elementary school students learn about slavery. Five days ago, white fifth-grade students in a New Jersey school sold black students as part of a mock slave auction, under the supervision of a substitute teacher. Read this article in The Washington Post, and get Freedom in Congo Square assigned in schools, for goodness’ sake! Now, more than ever, we need to remember the history of slavery accurately and with empathy, and there are few better books to do this with than Weatherford’s.
– Kid Commentator RGN
Yep. I saw this one coming from a mile away. I really really wish that they could both make it to the final round, but unfortunately that’s not how it works. (Unless Freedom in Congo Square is the Undead winner!)
– Kid Commentator NS
MARCH: BOOK THREE
WILL MOVE ON
TO THE CLOSING ROUND