cover image Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend

Belle, the Last Mule at Gee’s Bend

Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Bettye Stroud, illus. by John Holyfield. Candlewick, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-4058-3

As Alex, a contemporary African-American boy, watches a mule named Belle munching collard greens in a garden in Gee’s Bend, Ala., her elderly owner tells him that the animal can eat all she wants—“She’s earned it.” Inspired by real events, Ramsey (Ruth and the Green Book) and Stroud’s (The Patchwork Path: A Quilt Map to Freedom) story steps back in time as the woman explains why. After Martin Luther King Jr. visited the poor community in 1965 and rallied its black residents to register to vote, Belle and other mules brought wagonloads of people out to do just that after the white sheriff shut down the ferry; later Belle and another mule pulled King’s casket through the streets of Atlanta during his funeral procession. The story is written as a conversation between the woman and Alex, her first-hand perspective on events epitomizing the idea of “living history.” Lit with bright blues suggestive of period film posters, Holyfield’s (The Hallelujah Flight) thickly painted acrylic scenes successfully capture the story’s modern and historical eras. An author’s note provides further detail about Belle and Dr. King. Ages 5–8. (Sept.)