cover image An American Story

An American Story

Kwame Alexander, illus. by Dare Coulter. Little, Brown, $18.99 (56p) ISBN 978-0-316-47312-5

Alexander begins this picture book with a vital question: “How do you tell a story/ that starts in Africa/ and ends in horror?” As Coulter’s art alternates between elaborately sculpted historical scenes and contemporary charcoal vignettes of schoolchildren in a classroom, the following pages reveal a history that “hurts/ and still loves.” Images of photographed clay figures against painted backgrounds begin in Africa, where children “finish chores/ play games/ listen to old tales.” Pages next portray enslaved African people in the bowels of a ship and toiling “for free” in America, as well as “refusing/ to stop smiling/ and loving.” It’s a layered, compassionate telling that considers how to relay difficult truths, and as the art converges into a visual of past and present together, stirring concluding lines suggest a route forward: “by holding/ history/ in one hand/ and clenching/ hope/ in the other.” Creators’ notes conclude. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)