Total Pageviews

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Freedom Over Me, by Ashley Bryan. Athenenum Books for Young Readers, Simon and Schuster. 2016. $23.99 ages 6 and up

“No matter what work I do
on the estate -
even learning carpentry
from Stephen -
I think of drawing.
I plan one day
to draw freely
from free Negro people.
I will create
loving portraits
of their strength  ..."

In an author's note following the text, Ashley Bryan explains how this beautiful and necessary book came to be written:

"A name. An age. A price.
    People like you. Like me.
    For sale!
    Many years ago I acquired a collection of slave-related documents.
They date from the 1820s to the 1860s.
    I was deeply moved by these documents and have long wished to
work from them. Finally, I chose the Fairchilds Appraisement of the
Estate document from July 5, 1828 to tell this story. Eleven slaves are
listed for sale with the cows, hogs, cotton; only the names and prices of
the slaves are noted (no age is indicated)."

He goes on to say he wanted to give these names a voice and a dream. He chooses an age and the work they are assigned to help tell their story. It is a deeply moving and necessary accounting of the time of slavery in the United States when 'Negro people were not considered human beings'. They were merely property to be bought and sold at an owner's behest.

There are 11 slaves here named, and Mr. Bryan does exactly what he set out to do: he gives them an identity, a purpose in life, and a dream for the future. As we read about them, we hear their voices, their personal history and their description of the work they do on the plantation.

Jane is the seamstress:

"I'm seamstress to Mrs. Fairchilds.
for my skills with cloth,
I design and sew
all of Mrs. Fairchilds's dresses,
tailor shirts and trousers
for Mr. Fairchilds as well.

I enjoy matching colored cloths,
creating unusual patterns.
This has brought many compliments
to the wearer.
Some deep remembrance
of woven African cloths
lives on in me."

And her dream:

"I have grown in artistry
through the clothes I create.
The praise I receive,
I offer as a tribute
to my ancestors.

Stephen and I
treat the young slave John
as our son.
We never lose hope
that we will one day
live free."

The gorgeous and boldly colored pen, ink and watercolor portraits are mesmerizing. You cannot help but be drawn to their faces, their demeanor, their hard work and their dreams; and the price they are expected to bring. They make a meaningful contribution to the success of the plantation. Their world is captured in their telling words. Ashley Bryan shows he cares about the people and their stories, and he makes us care, too. This is a powerful book, and it should be shared.

No comments:

Post a Comment