I’d like to look at Kadir Nelson’s HEART AND SOUL for a moment, because though it’s gotten tossed about, unless I’ve missed it no one’s tried to champion it in a big way since Jonthan’s lukewarmness at the Fall Nonfiction Newbery Contenders post. At the end he says: Perhaps I just know too much about these periods of history to be quite as impressed. And perhaps Nelson has bit off more than he can chew. I think he is prone to oversimplification and overgeneralization, at times, but I’d have to comb back through the book to find those instances. I also have a slight concern about the book design which highlights the illustrations, but leaves huge, impenetrable blocks of text for child readers.
I’d like to argue that rather than “oversimplication and overgeneralization,” Nelson has succeeded in writing a highly engaging narrative survey of an historical arc from Colonialism to the Civil Rights Movement. That is, this book is intended to be an overview, and there are deliberate generalizations toward that end. For me, they work. Nelson’s done a remarkable job of selecting choice elements, and using a voice and specific family memories to enliven the telling of the history from a distinct point of view.
The design issues should be discussed, but to me they are insignificant enough. I don’t find the blocks of text a problem in this book. I did have a problem with them in WE ARE THE SHIP; but there, though the trim size is the same, the text size is significantly smaller. I think the size of text here, the leading, the margins, all support each other in a readable way. I’m more irked by the interruptions in text for double-page spreads. This happens a couple of times. Breaking text over a single page illustration is ok, because the reader has lived with that illustration on the spread for the length of a page. But when you leave the middle of a sentence for a page turn that drops you into a double-page civil war battle scene… you have to stop. The illustration makes you stop. And lose the thread. Still….though this might be a significant consideration for the Sibert Comittee, it is less so for the Newbery.
I think this title would stand up in discussion to most of the other titles we’ve been talking about. It’s one that benefits from re-reading, and reading aloud. It also reads episodically in a wonderful way–the chapters are exactly the right length for a single sitting, and each has a theatrically crafted beginning and close. I think any in-depth discussion will hinge around what Nelson has chosen to leave out. My quibble is that he relegated the Black Power movement to an allusion in the Epilogue. That seems to me a necessary part of the survey he is giving, yet between these pages, but readers may easily miss it, instead following straight from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Obama’s election. That was not a direct arrow in history, and I wish the late 60s/early 70s had gotten a chapter. In the chronology at the end, it is a 40 year gaping hole…the only spread of time that significant in his chronology for two hundred years.