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Saturday, September 21, 2013

This Is the Rope, written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by James Ransome. Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin. 2013. $18.00 ages 4 and up

"This is the rope my mama
held out to the girls on the
block, her new Brooklyn
block, a home of their own
that they finally owned.

Mama asked shyly,
Anybody want to play?"

In this fictional tribute to her family's history, Jacqueline Woodson creates a portrait of people moving from the southern United States to the north during the Great Migration. She dedicates it to those who left one home to find another:

"This book is dedicated to the more than 6 million African Americans who left the unjust conditions of the South for a better life in the North from the early 1900s until the 1970s. My mother and grandmother were among them. I thank you all for your courage and for making a way out of no way."

It begins with a rope found beneath an old oak tree when her grandmother still lived in South Carolina. That rope provides hours of skipping fun. As the rope is handed from one generation to the next, it has many uses. As the grandparents load up the car that they will drive north, the rope holds their many possessions to the rooftop. Once they settle in New York City it finds works in holding dried flowers, stringing laundry to blow in the breeze, pulling a toy duck, and once again, skipping with children from the new neighborhood. When needed ten years later, it is still there...always a symbol connecting present to past.

Told in lyric prose that exudes the warmth of family and connection, the rope in the story epitomizes
'hope' for all who made the journey to better...'better jobs, better treatment, better education and better lives.'

The rich depth of James Ransome's realistic oil paintings add to that feeling of warmth and hope. Filled with movement and infused with light, they offer a look at the lives of three generations connected by love, memory and a belief in the future. They take readers into times past and allow us a close look at Brooklyn at the height of the Great Migration.

As the story ends, the rope is returned to its original owner in trade:

"This is the rope, threadbare and graying,
that I traded with Grandma for a brand-new one.
Then I jumped a new jump..."

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