cover image We Troubled the Waters

We Troubled the Waters

Ntozake Shange, , illus. by Rod Brown. . HarperCollins/Amistad, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-06-133735-2

This unflinching collection of poems and paintings portrays the struggle for civil rights in all its anguish and triumph. Shange (Ellington Was Not a Street ), an Obie Award–winning playwright and poet, crafts powerful vignettes that trace the movement from 1941 to the present, her malleable voice creating indelible characters and moments. Lynching is the topic of the harrowing “Crying Trees”: “how can our boys be some decorations in the forest/ never to kiss good night again/ never to hold other sons in their arms again/ cut em down now if we dare.” Brown's (From Slave Ship to Freedom ) iconic, earth-toned paintings add even more dimension. Bodies hang surreally on stem-short nooses against chaotic foliage—a nod to the era's influential song, “Strange Fruit,” perhaps. Insightful compositions capture the dignity of “garbage boys” and the palpable outrage of Martin Luther King Jr. (his clenched fist rivals his head in size and intensity). Moving from the powerlessness of the Jim Crow years to how today, “the flag protects each American all,” this is a deeply honest and moving chronology. Ages 9–up. (Nov.)