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Round 2 Match 1: Freedom in Congo Square vs When Green Becomes Tomatoes
JUDGE – JAVAKA STEPTOE
|Freedom in Congo Square
by Carole Boston Weatherford
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
|When Green Becomes Tomatoes
by Julie Fogliano
illustrated by Julie Morstad
I like to think of these two books as pieces of music: One is like a work song, the other a classical concerto. In this way they are quite different and yet comparable, with one resonating for me more than the other.
The Work Song: Freedom in Congo Square
The work song in Congo Square rings simple and clear as we get one day closer to Congo Square. It connotes the movement of emotions the enslaved black Americans felt from anger, to fear, to just plain tired; from anticipation, to hopefulness, to jubilee. It keeps you wrapped in the blanket of their struggle until we finally arrive at Sunday, when this blanket is shed and laid out for a picnic, when you feel the beauty of the sun and can celebrate. But like any work song, the end is not the end. The toil is not over. Instead, the song, in its repetitive process, keeps the mind and the heart focused, as the work of the slaves is never really done.
For this reason, I wanted more insight into these few hours of freedom. I enjoyed the celebration but would have liked to see the meeting of family members, the sharing of information, the plots to overthrow shackles and chains. That being said, I loved the rhythm of the language and the sparseness, muted colors, and interesting compositions of Gregory Christie’s illustrations. The night scene particularly struck me, as it reminds us of the horrible slave ships that brought millions of Africans to the Americas.
The Concerto: When Green Becomes Tomatoes
Much like a concerto, Tomatoes moves from one emotional touchpoint to another, following a cast of principal characters, with poetic accompaniment. Unlike Congo Square, this time we experience the silly, the dreamy, the awe of nature’s beauty. The intricacy and sparseness of the illustrations are beautiful and complement a feeling of wonder propelling us forward through the seasons, while the text is light, airy, and comfortable. I can see how the language might have gone to a deeper place considering the range of emotions children feel on a daily basis, but overall this poetry collection could easily be enjoyed by any reader.
When Green Becomes Tomatoes is like a nice song that gets stuck in your head, one you hum over and over and makes you tap your foot—a classical concerto that everyone appreciates. But Freedom in Congo Square wrenches your heart. It does the hard work. It says something important and brings to light issues that still need to be addressed today. And for that reason, it is the winner of this round.
I love Mr. Steptoe’s comparison of these books to pieces of music, and I fully agree that Freedom in Congo Square needs to move on because, as a work song, it reminds us of history, struggle, and joy.
There might be a way, though, to merge the concerto and the work song (which, in this context, is “political”). I think this beautiful poem by Ross Gay, a poet and professor at Indiana University, does just that:
A Small Needful Fact
is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.
– Kid Commentator RGN
Two of my favorite books in the battle are pitted against each other. Of course. (Nimona vs. Marvels last year was another painful match.) I think there’s something to be said that Freedom in Congo Square, a picture book with very few words, is advancing to Round 3. Like I said in my first comment this year, I was so so impressed with Congo Square and everything about it is wonderful and important and just so good!!
– Kid Commentator NS
FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE WILL MOVE ON TO ROUND THREE
About Battle Commander
The Battle Commander is the nom de guerre for children’s literature enthusiasts Monica Edinger and Roxanne Hsu Feldman, fourth grade teacher and middle school librarian at the Dalton School in New York City and Jonathan Hunt, the County Schools Librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. All three have served on the Newbery Committee as well as other book selection and award committees. They are also published authors of books, articles, and reviews in publications such as the New York Times, School Library Journal, and the Horn Book Magazine. You can find Monica at educating alice and on twitter as @medinger. Roxanne is at Fairrosa Cyber Library and on twitter as @fairrosa. Jonathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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