cover image John Brown

John Brown

Jacob Lawrence, Gwen Everett. Rizzoli International Publications, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8478-1702-3

As she did in her accomplished first book, L'il Sis and Uncle Willie , Everett has taken existing artwork--in this case by African American artist Jacob Lawrence--and written a historical text around it. Here, John Brown's fight against slavery is chronicled by his daughter Annie, 16 when Brown raided Harpers Ferry, Va., in 1859. On the verge of adulthood, Annie combines her pride in her father with a growing understanding of his work. She questions the use of ``deadly force'' as a means to end slavery and wonders if freedom is worth dying for, thus drawing in the reader and keeping this chapter history alive and urgent. At times, however, the author's need to convey detailed information overburdens the story and the spontaneity of Annie's voice is lost. The gouache paintings, part of a series of 22 works undertaken by Lawrence in 1941 to commemorate John Brown, are strikingly eloquent, their dark hues emboldened by bars of bright color. But in this context they can be static, somber and even menacing; they seem diminished rather than enhanced by their service as picture-book illustrations. Ages 8-up. (Aug.)