Barbara's Reviews > Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans

Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson
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Oct 30, 11

bookshelves: civil-rights, ncbla
Read in October, 2011

If this book doesn't win multiple honors when it's time for those to be doled out, I'll be surprised and disappointed. In this introduction to the history of African Americans, Nelson cleverly relies on the voice of a female narrator, a sort of Everywoman who describes for her descendant(s)how her ancestors came to this country on slave ships, and then how the parts they played in history, all the way through the civil rights movement and the 2008 election. This narrative device is just as effective in this title as it was in the earlier We Are the Ship in which Nelson used an Everyman to describe the history of the Negro baseball leagues. From the book's very first pages, the narrator's voice is true and engaging as she describes her family's part in the Civil War, the Great Migration, World War II, even the early feminist movement. In the back matter, Nelson describes his own less than stellar academic experiences with history, and how he came to fall in love with it over the course of his own painting projects. It is worth noting that he never intends to tell the definitive story of the history of African Americans in this volume; instead, he draws from his own family history and family members' recollection of a particular part of history. It's easy to picture him sitting alone in the dark somewhere staring at a cherished family photo and realizing that it, too, somehow captured an important part of history. When all has been said and done, after all, it is how events touch each of us and our loved ones that matters far more than the names of famous men and women. Nelson book makes that abundantly clear.

With more than 45 illustrations, many covering an entire page, and some sprawling over two pages, the book offers a stunning visual appearance. His artwork lovingly shows the pain, dignity, determination, fear, and confusion on the faces of his subjects. His father figures often have their hands placed lovingly on the shoulders of their children as if to offer protection, support, and guidance. From an incredible collection of images, I was most moved by the portrait of a woman surrounded by cotton that has been laboriously harvested and cleaned as well as the one of Rosa Parks sitting stalwartly on that bus, and the one of the Little Rock school children as they attempt to enter the school building.
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