cover image Band of Angels a: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers

Band of Angels a: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers

Deborah Hopkinson. Atheneum Books, $16.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-689-81062-6

A groundbreaking African-American chorus founded in 1871 inspires this warm and moving picture book. ""Grandma Ella was born into slavery... but no one could chain her voice,"" begins Aunt Beth in response to the girl narrator's request for her favorite story. After the Civil War, Ella becomes one of the first students to attend the Fisk School, a newly formed institution for freed slaves in Nashville. She has been at her studies only a short time when the school's run-down buildings and dire financial situation puts Fisk on the verge of closing. But Professor White, who teaches music, recruits Ella and fellow members of the school chorus to tour the northern states and raise money for Fisk. In the North, the singing group meets with harsh discrimination that moves them to perform not the slotted popular tunes of the day but the ""powerful songs of courage"" known as spirituals--a program change that earns them both money and accolades. Hopkinson's (Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt) lilting text interweaves subtle details about racial tensions after the Civil War while emphasizing the importance of education and of being true to oneself. Colon's (My Mama Had a Dancing Heart) watercolor and colored-pencil compositions are awash in soft, golden light. His characteristic cross-hatching technique adds texture and depth to each painting, and scenes of the chorus lost in song--voices raised, eyes closed--reveal the courage and heart of these trailblazing singers. Ages 5-8. (Jan.)