Book Review: Kin: Rooted in Hope by Carole Boston Weatherford, Jeffery Boston Weatherford (Illustrator)
A powerful portrait of a Black family tree shaped by enslavement and freedom, rendered in searing poems by acclaimed author Carole Boston Weatherford and stunning art by her son Jeffery Boston Weatherford.
I call their names:
Abram Alice Amey Arianna Antiqua
I call their names:
Isaac Jake James Jenny Jim
Every last one, property of the Lloyds,
the state’s preeminent enslavers.
Every last one, with a mind of their own
and a story that ain’t yet been told.
Carole and Jeffery Boston Weatherford’s ancestors are among the founders of Maryland. Their family history there extends more than three hundred years, but as with the genealogical searches of many African Americans with roots in slavery, their family tree can only be traced back five generations before going dark. And so from scraps of history, Carole and Jeffery have conjured the voices of their kin, creating an often painful but ultimately empowering story of who their people were in a breathtaking book that is at once deeply personal yet all too universal.
Carole’s poems capture voices ranging from her ancestors to Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman to the plantation house and land itself that connects them all, and Jeffery’s evocative illustrations help carry the story from the first mention of a forebear listed as property in a 1781 ledger to he and his mother’s homegoing trip to Africa in 2016. Shaped by loss, erasure, and ultimate reclamation, this is the story of not only Carole and Jeffery’s family, but of countless other Black families in America.
Here’s how engrossed I was in this book: I was reading it on my lunch break at work, tucked in a back corner of the library. A kid somewhere nearby in the building was not having a good day—the kind of “not having a good day” that results in a lot of really loud screaming. And I had tuned it all out until my coworker asked if maybe I didn’t want to go read somewhere else. I was good. I was not in school, but deep in this book, tracing the ancestry right along with Weatherford. She follows family members as they get bought and sold, change positions, lose family connections, and lose (and have erased) their histories. She digs deep to bring their stories to light, letting not just her ancestors speak, and not just voices of famous freedom fighters, but voices we may not expect to hear—a house, a bay, a dog. Wye House says, “I witnessed more cruelty than I care to recall/The sin of slavery haunts my every hall” (18). A dog says, “Catching Black people is not my idea of sport.” A young white boy, speaking of his “playmate” Frederick Douglass, talks about how lucky young Fred is. He says, “If I were older, I would buy him/so we can always be close” (107). The combination of these voices, the author’s questions and thoughts as she researches and learns, and the striking artwork make for a deeply affecting read. It is hard to understand how hope could endure in conditions like those the enslaved lived under, yet the author shows the love, connection, resilience, and reclamation of a people whose voices are essential to the narrative of slavery and of our country.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 09/19/2023
Age Range: 10 – 18 Years
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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