CIRCLE UNBROKEN: The Story of a Basket and Its People

Margot Theis Raven, Author, E. B. Lewis, Illustrator , illus. by E.B. Lewis. FSG/Kroupa
(48p) ISBN (0p) ISBN 978-0-374-31289-3

In the opening scene, an African-American woman encircles the granddaughter who sits on her lap, guiding her fingers in the sewing of sweetgrass baskets. The circle motif weaves in and out of Raven's (Angels in the Dust ) poetic tale, referring not just to loving embraces but to the tight, round coils of a Gullah basket, and the ties that bind past to present. Through the story of the girl's "old-timey grandfather," Grandma entwines the history of the Africans' capture with the history of Gullah baskets—which are still crafted today in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia. The girl's African ancestors proudly made baskets so tight they could hold rain, "but the wide, deep ocean held the rain, too, and the rain fell bitter as your grandfather's tears when the slave men came and bound him in chains." Raven's lyrical prose resonates with such emotional connections, and traces the weaving skill as it passes from the Africans to the captives in America to today's roadside craftsmen and women: "And when your fingers talk just right that circle will go out and out again—past slavery and freedom, old ways and new, and your basket will hold the past." Echoing the almost epic style of the text, Lewis's (Joe-Joe's First Flight ) watercolors depict lush scenes of Africa that fade to a doleful, monochromatic scene of capture; the Civil War unfolds as a sea of blue-coated soldiers blurred against a gray-blue sky. With repeated readings, children will begin to absorb the many layers of this gracefully constructed tale, as intricate as the baskets and the history to which it pays tribute. Ages 6-up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 12/22/2003
Release date: 03/01/2004
Genre: Children's
Paperback - 48 pages - 978-0-312-37603-1
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