cover image Freedom’s a-Callin Me

Freedom’s a-Callin Me

Ntozake Shange, illus. by Rod Brown. Collins/Amistad, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-133741-3

Shange and Brown’s (We Troubled the Waters) book of poems about an escaping slave won’t be easy for some readers to get through. Whipping, pursuit by bloodhounds (“dogs’ll tear your/ muscle right off the bone”), and other horrors haunt the slave and his fellow escapees. Shange uses her formidable gifts to call up the voices of the slave and those he encounters; his words are raw and agonized in some places (“ah jus’ can’t take it no more,” he says, “ah am not some animal to be worked from dawn to dusk/ livin on the entrails of hogs & such”) and unbearably poignant in others (“but he’s travelin alone,” he protests to another escapee about a man they see across the swamp at night, “can’t we help him a little bit”). The shadowed figures in Brown’s full-bleed spreads are often barely perceptible in the dark. In one striking painting, the slave hides below the floorboards as a dance is held above him; thin lines of golden light fall over his concealed body. When the journey ends, the calm of freedom seems unbelievable. A potent and memorable work. Ages 8–12. Agent: Russell & Volkening. (Jan.)