cover image Sing a Song: How “Lift Every Voice and Sing” Inspired Generations

Sing a Song: How “Lift Every Voice and Sing” Inspired Generations

Kelly Starling Lyons, illus. by Keith Mallett. Penguin/Paulsen, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-525-51609-5

Through the lens of a family handing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” down through several generations, Lyons (Hope’s Gift) delivers the history of a song that has inspired generations of African-Americans to persist and resist in the face of racism and systemic oppression. The creators start with the song’s beginnings in 1900, when it was penned by siblings James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamund Johnson to commemorate President Lincoln’s birthday. In vibrant, realistic illustrations and painstaking facial detail, Mallett portrays a girl practicing, then singing—“back straight, head high,/ heart and mouth open”—at the song’s first choir performance before eventually teaching it to her son (“It was a part of her she wanted to pass on”). Bold colors lend emotion to scenes of hope and adversity as one child becomes a WWII veteran facing discrimination and subsequent generations witness other moments in history: the killing of Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights protests, and, in 2016, the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. All the while, each generation passes the lyrics along, and a final page urges readers to “keep singing... keep on keeping on.” A heartfelt history of a historic anthem. Ages 5–8. (Aug.)