cover image We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song

Debbie Levy, illus. by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Disney-Jump at the Sun, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4231-1954-8

The power of song to bolster courage, combat bigotry, and effect change courses through this dramatization of the civil rights movement. The lyrics to several variations of “We Shall Overcome” serve as a backdrop to Levy’s fluid free verse, which opens “Back in slavery times” as slaves sang “to soothe the hurt, to fight the cruelty.” Levy (The Year of Goodbyes) moves quickly through the Civil War to the mid-20th century, when African-Americans began protesting “unfairness, hate, and violence,” and “brought a church song, ‘I Will Overcome,’ to the streets.” (“We” soon replaced “I.”) The Freedom Singers’ national tour, the 1963 March on Washington, and President Johnson’s televised 1965 speech evoking the song’s message and words are among the pivotal events mentioned. Brantley-Newton (Let Freedom Sing) counterbalances the stark inequalities Levy highlights with brightly colored collagelike images that portray Americans of all colors standing and singing together. A timeline follows the evolution of “We Shall Overcome,” citing its role in specific protests, to close out this enlightening and inspiring book. Ages 5–up. Author’s agent: Caryn Wiseman, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Illustrator’s agent: Lori Nowicki, Painted Words. (Dec.)