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Born on the water
Where is it?
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Publishers Weekly Review
When a Black child, this story's narrator, feels shame surrounding a family tree assignment ("I can only count back three generations, here, in this country"), their parents and grandparents offer what an author's note calls "a proud origin story." In meticulous, forthright poems by Newbery Honoree Watson and 1619 Project founder Hannah-Jones, the family reaches back to the Kingdom of Ndongo, where their ancestors "had a home, a place, a land,/ a beginning." Subsequent spreads describe the child's West Central African forbears, who spoke Kimbundu ("had their own words/ for love/ for friend/ for family"), were good with their hands and minds, excelled at math and science, "and they danced." When the lines recount how, in 1619, those ancestors were shackled and ferried across the Atlantic to Virginia on the White Lion, the authors clearly but non-graphically confront the horror of chattel slavery, emphasizing the resilience of the enslaved people who survived this impossible journey. Alternating between realistic and surreal images, Smith (World Cup Women) works in a saturated palette to create emotionally evocative scenes: dark, mostly monochrome tableaus convey tragedy or violence; brightly lit, multicolor palettes illustrate scenes of peace and joy. While detailing the specifics of an often-obscured history and its effects, this volume powerfully emphasizes that Black history is not merely a story of slavery and suffering but one of perseverance and hope. Ages 7--10. (Nov.)
School Library Journal Review
Gr 2--5--Hannah-Jones's seminal The 1619 Project becomes a 24-minute lyrical gift for youngest readers, rendered with Newbery Honoree Watson. Hannah-Jones voices the affecting verses: gentle through the horror, solemn to encourage empowerment, inviting to share the joy. A Black girl's school assignment to "trace your roots" leaves her "ashamed" because she "can only count back three generations." Grandma is her powerful antidote: "Let me tell you where we're from." Grandma reveals a story of "a home, a place, a land, a beginning" in the Kingdom of Ndongo where ancestors lived free...until the White Lion arrived in 1619 to steal the people to be whipped, chained, sold, enslaved in the New World. As Hannah-Jones and Watson remind in their authors' note, "Black Americans have their own proud origin story." VERDICT A must-have for every library: pair with the Nikkolas Smith--illustrated printed book for a phenomenal, immersive experience.
Booklist Review
A young, unnamed Black girl is ashamed that she can't complete a school genealogy project because she can only trace her family history back three generations. When she shares her problem with her grandmother, the woman calls the whole family together and tells them the story of their history, beginning hundreds of years earlier in the West-Central African kingdom of Ndongo, where their ancestors lived an idyllic life, described in the coauthors' heartfelt poems and captured in apposite, full-color representational pictures. The story takes a dark turn when the Portuguese arrive, kidnap Ndongo's people, and put them, chained, in the hold of the White Lion to transport them to Virginia, where they are enslaved. The coauthors bring necessary expertise to this important story and celebrate the resilient spirit that informed these individuals' lives. Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize--winning journalist, conceived The New York Times Magazine's 1619 Project, while Watson is a Newbery Honor Book author. Together, they capture essential facets of and variety within Black experiences in America.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: The relevancy of the topic and clout of The New York Times will put this powerhouse title on everyone's radar.
Horn Book Review
The book begins with a premise many African American families know well: a child gets an assignment at school that involves learning about her ancestry and culture, and she doesn't know how to find the answers that seem so readily available to her classmates of other ethnicities. "I do not know where I begin, what my story is," she narrates. When she goes home and tells her grandmother this, Grandma gathers all the family members to tell them about their past. In poem after poem, she relates the tale of the people who were brought to the Americas on the White Lion in 1619. She tells the story of who they were and how they lived when they were free. She describes their language, Kimbundu; their work; their knowledge; their love; their dance. She tells how they were stolen, how they suffered on the water, how "these many people / became one people, / a new people" on the ship, when they refused to die. Grandma tells of the sadness, the determination, faith, hope, and resistance that brought the people through centuries of struggle to the current day, where a legacy remains that leaves the schoolgirl with pride in her people and their contributions to building the United States of America. Written in lovely and loving verse, with dynamic, expressive, and expansive illustrations that convey the emotional journey of a resilient people, this book provides a moving, informative answer to an essential question. Autumn Allen November/December 2021 p.123(c) Copyright 2021. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Kirkus Review
A celebration of Black Americans for young readers, derived from Hannah-Jones' 1619 Project. Told in a series of poems that create a narrative, the story opens with a young Black girl given a school assignment to trace her ancestry. Despondent, she tells her grandmother about her shame at being unable to complete the assignment. Grandma then tells the story of their ancestors. Refreshingly, that story starts pre-enslavement, in West Central Africa: "Their story does not begin / with whips and chains. / They had a home, a place, a land, / a beginning. / … / Before they were enslaved, they were / free." Several spreads are dedicated to celebrating the ancestors' language, skilled hands, sharp minds, joyful hearts, and amazing dancing. When enslavement enters the narrative, authors and illustrator strike a balance between presenting an honest picture and consideration for young readers. Smith's evocative, vibrant art is full of emotion and motion. Colors and images speak volumes, while characters are portrayed with dignity, even in the worst circumstances. A significant portion of the story focuses on this period and how the ancestors survived and made a home in the United States. Poems "Resistance" and "Legacy" round out the narrative until reaching a conclusion for the character the book opened with in "Pride." Compression of 400-plus years of history leads to some oversimplification, but overall it is a tremendous achievement.(This book was reviewed digitally.) A gift to Black Americans and everyone else who reads it. (authors' note, illustrator's note) (Picture book/poetry. 5-8) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
The 1619 Project's lyrical picture book in verse chronicles the consequences of slavery and the history of Black resistance in the United States, thoughtfully rendered by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and Newbery honor-winning author Renee Watson.

A young student receives a family tree assignment in school, but she can only trace back three generations. Grandma gathers the whole family, and the student learns that 400 years ago, in 1619, their ancestors were stolen and brought to America by white slave traders.
But before that, they had a home, a land, a language. She learns how the people said to be born on the water survived.

And the people planted dreams and hope,
willed themselves to keep
living, living.

And the people learned new words
for love
for friend
for family

for joy
for grow
for home.

With powerful verse and striking illustrations byNikkolas Smith, Born on the Water provides a pathway for readers of all ages to reflect on the origins of American identity.
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