Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: Freedom in Congo Square

Alyson Beecher over at Kid Lit Frenzy hosts a Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge and has a roundup every Wednesday. I love the encouragement to explore more non-fiction. My plan is to read at least 100 nonfiction picture books this year.

There have been many posts and discussions about the depiction of slavery in children's literature lately. If you have missed them, here is an article that explains the most recent happenings surrounding the picture book A Birthday Cake for George Washington. So when I opened my Junior Library Guild box and found a book dealing with slavery, I wasn't sure what to expect.

Freedom in Congo Square 
written by Carole Boston Weatherford 
with illustrations by R. Gregory Christie

Goodreads summary:  This poetic, nonfiction story about a little-known piece of African American history captures a human’s capacity to find hope and joy in difficult circumstances and demonstrates how New Orleans' Congo Square was truly freedom’s heart.

Mondays, there were hogs to slop,
mules to train, and logs to chop.
Slavery was no ways fair.
Six more days to Congo Square.

As slaves relentlessly toiled in an unjust system in 19th century Louisiana, they all counted down the days until Sunday, when at least for half a day they were briefly able to congregate in Congo Square in New Orleans. Here they were free to set up an open market, sing, dance, and play music. They were free to forget their cares, their struggles, and their oppression. This story chronicles slaves' duties each day, from chopping logs on Mondays to baking bread on Wednesdays to plucking hens on Saturday, and builds to the freedom of Sundays and the special experience of an afternoon spent in Congo Square.

My thoughts: Readers will come away with the understanding that slavery was deplorable and unfair. They will also see that in this one special place, enslaved people had a brief time to themselves and they made the most of it. This book is one that doesn't sugar coat slavery or make it seem like it wasn't so bad. It does show that enslaved people were able to find meaning and enjoyment in their lives in spite of the circumstances, but certainly reinforces the idea that slavery cannot be seen in a positive light. Sunday was something to look forward to, but it could not negate the injustice of the system.

I appreciated the focus on the music that was created in the square. Readers learn about the roots of jazz. The illustrations are bright and energetic and fit particularly well with the theme of the music and dance.

I will definitely be highlighting this book at school along with other excellent titles about slavery and resistance that are listed at Teaching for Change.


  1. I just put this on hold! Looking forward to it, thanks for the review!

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  3. Sorry, too many spelling changes! I just picked this one up from my library, and will read it soon. It sounds great, Crystal.

  4. I feel like picking this up after reading so many good things about it.

  5. Sounds like a beautiful picture book. The fact that slaves were able to create any joy in their lives just goes to show how resilient these individuals were, and how determined they were to not let their oppressors destroy their spirits in spite of terrible injustices. A very inspiring story.

  6. I am so excited to find this title and experience it.

  7. I love this book Crystal. I will be placing it on my Mock Caldecott list this year.