cover image The 1619 Project: Born on the Water

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water

Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, illus. by Nikkolas Smith. Kokila, $18.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-593-30735-9

When a Black child, this story’s narrator, feels shame surrounding a family tree assignment (“I can only count back three generations, here, in this country”), their parents and grandparents offer what an author’s note calls “a proud origin story.” In meticulous, forthright poems by Newbery Honoree Watson and 1619 Project founder Hannah-Jones, the family reaches back to the Kingdom of Ndongo, where their ancestors “had a home, a place, a land,/ a beginning.” Subsequent spreads describe the child’s West Central African forbears, who spoke Kimbundu (“had their own words/ for love/ for friend/ for family”), were good with their hands and minds, excelled at math and science, “and they danced.” When the lines recount how, in 1619, those ancestors were shackled and ferried across the Atlantic to Virginia on the White Lion, the authors clearly but non-graphically confront the horror of chattel slavery, emphasizing the resilience of the enslaved people who survived this impossible journey. Alternating between realistic and surreal images, Smith (World Cup Women) works in a saturated palette to create emotionally evocative scenes: dark, mostly monochrome tableaus convey tragedy or violence; brightly lit, multicolor palettes illustrate scenes of peace and joy. While detailing the specifics of an often-obscured history and its effects, this volume powerfully emphasizes that Black history is not merely a story of slavery and suffering but one of perseverance and hope. Ages 7–10. (Nov.)