Toussaint L'Ouverture: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom
Walter Dean Myers, Jacob Lawrence. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, $16 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-689-80126-6
As in her Life Around the Lake (coauthored with Gloria Soto), Presilla again examines a little-known culture by means of its textile arts. This time her subject is the Cuna Indians, who inhabit the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama, and the avenue for exploration is the mola, a vibrant cloth panel with embroidered and appliqued designs. Outsiders frame molas as art; Cuna women sew them into blouses. The author's language is often as vivid as the painstakingly stitched, densely hued fabric art; she notes that from the air the San Blas Islands ""seem no bigger than jellyfish floating lazily in the shiny turquoise and cobalt blue waters of the Caribbean Sea."" Cuna women create the molas; as the author explains in an endnote, the high prices these works fetch from outsiders buttresses the dominant role women have traditionally played in Cuna society. Aided by crisply detailed photographs of molas, Presilla paints a memorable portrait of ""women who wear their lives."" Ages 7-up. (Oct.) TOUSSAINT L'OUVERTURE: The Fight for Haiti's Freedom Walter Dean Myers, illus. by Jacob Lawrence. S&S, $16 ISBN 0-689-80126-2 As a young Harlem Renaissance artist, Lawrence's first success was a series of 41 narrative paintings chronicling the life of Haitian activist Toussaint L'Ouverture, who in 1791 led a rebellion against the French planters. Lawrence's stylized tempura art, painted predominantly in muted earth hues, is punctuated by luminous splashes of white and red. His striking compositions recreate the drama of how the self-taught Toussaint became the revolt's leader, organizing workers into ""a mighty army of liberation"" to abolish slavery on both the French and Spanish sides of the island. They also convey Toussaint's despair in prison, where he died before Haiti's liberation in 1804. The battle scenes are a dynamic clatter of spiky, angular shapes and flying hooves; more quiet panels depict Toussaint studiously drafting battle plans and ships ominously arriving from France. Though Myers (Brown Angels) makes some broad leaps that may puzzle kids, he skillfully presents Toussaint's life story in succinct episodes that correspond to the paintings. His clean, effective text supports Lawrence's more complex and powerful paintings, both urbane and elemental in style. Ages 8-12. (Oct.) FYI: The artist whose paintings illustrate this book is himself the subject of a picture book (reviewed below).
Reviewed on: 10/02/1996