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Saturday, November 8, 2014

All Different Now, written by Angela Johnson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Simon & Schuster, 2014. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"And nobody knew,
as we
ate a little,
talked a little,
and headed to the fields
as the sun was rising,
that soon,
it would be all different."

June 19, 1865 - two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation- the news reaches one cotton field in Texas that all slaves have been freed. A child's innocence captures the joy of the moment when she and her family learn that things will be 'all different now'.

The day does not begin with anticipation for change; rather, it begins as most days do. The hot sun rises, the family wakens and prepares for another day of hard work in the nearby cotton fields.  As they work, word is spread that a Union general has shared the freedom news. It finally reaches the field workers whose response is befitting such an unbelievable pronouncement. Their joy is palpable, and leads to an afternoon picnic on the beach:

"Papa, Mama, the aunts and uncles, and all of
my cousins had an afternoon picnic by the water.
My baby brother crawled around our blanket as we
listened to the sounds of the waves."

Juneteenth is celebrated today in more than forty states, and commemorates the day that Texas slaves heard the news that freedom was theirs. Angela Johnson imagines what it might have been like for her great-grandparents and honors them with her story.

In an illustrator's note, E.B. Lewis talks about his research for the significant artwork that accompanies Ms. Johnson's beautiful words:

"What I learned both enraged and thrilled me. I alternately felt despair and jubilation; grief in face of man's devastating inhumanity to man and joy for the resiliency and beauty of the human spirit...It's simply impossible for a contemporary American, of any color, to put himself squarely in the shoes of a nineteenth-century slave."

That is certainly true; but, I cannot imagine a more brilliant interpretation of the day than the one E.B. Lewis brings to the pages of this important book. With great care and compassion, he helps us see how it might have been for those who had never known another way of life, and who were suddenly faced with an overwhelming reality. There is so much to love about his honorable images, not the least of which is the final double page spread.

Angela Johnson stated it in a recent interview:

"The heart of All Different Now is truly the essence of change. Change might seem to come slowly but at the same time appear to come out of nowhere, swiftly. With that said, though, I played no part in the decision to show the family packing to leave at the end of the book. But I have always believed the measure of a good working text is that the artist can go beyond and interpret the emotions of a manuscript. E. B. [Lewis] has done this wonderfully."

Be sure to take the time to read the back matter: included are an author's note, an illustrator's note, important dates, Juneteenth, then and now, and a list of online sources and key terms. Each one serves to enhance the importance of the telling.                                                                            

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