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

Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson
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's review
Dec 17, 11

bookshelves: juv_nonfiction, mock_coretta_scott_king
Read in December, 2011

It is a little hard to evaluate the text of this book independently from the images, just because the paintings are *so* arresting. I have to say, and maybe I'm the only one, but I was quite taken with the writing and voice as well. I think Nelson accomplished something that looks simple but actually must have been quite difficult, which is condensing really significant African-American historical events into just enough detail that they are understood from that culture's perspective. The familiar authorial voice kept it from becoming too condescending because it felt like it was speaking from a long experience, and the balance of hope was never lost even though the book is honest about times in history that were very difficult for this culture.

Here's a couple of examples of what I'm talking about: on p. 53, the "now, it's not particularly easy to describe what was happening in Europe at the time, but I can tell you that in 1914, Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated..." etc. By conceding that history is often viewed through a personal lens, Nelson gives the story the power to convey clearly just the details relevant to African-American and personal history. The sections on Harlem and inventors in particular are so bright and hopeful, but I love how Nelson also shows how people found hope in the worst of times, like singing the spirituals in the section on slavery. Honestly, I found the voice very warm and moving most of the time with all the "honeys" and "chiles" thrown in there, but it never felt too overly sentimental, either.

It's almost a shame because I know this book is going to be recognized more for the stellar illustrations (as it probably should be), and it would be interesting what I'd think of the text alone and I'll never have that chance, but to me it achieved a lot in a deceptively simple way and definitely met the CSK criteria for promoting an understanding and appreciation of the culture. Last year, in February, an African-American mom was in the library looking for a book to give her son that went over a lot of the cultural history in a way he could understand and that would instill some pride. I did give her some books they could share, but I really wish I had been able to give her this book at the time. I think it's so beautiful and probably exactly what she was looking for.

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