Reviews for Heart and Soul : The Story of America and African Americans

Booklist Reviews 2011 August #1
"*Starred Review* Nelson, the creator of We Are the Ship (2008), recipient of both a Coretta Scott King Author Award and a Robert F. Siebert Medal, adds to his notable titles with this powerful view of African American history. Illustrated with 44 full-page paintings, including both portraits and panoramic spreads, this handsome volume is told in the fictionalized, informal voice of an African American senior looking back on her life and remembering what her elders told her. The tone is intimate, even cozy, as the speaker addresses a contemporary "honey chile" and shares historical accounts that sometimes take a wry view of inequality: about a journey north, for example, she observes that "Jim Crow has made the trip right along with us." Grim struggle is always present in her telling, though, and the passages include the horror of race riots, illustrated with a terrifying painting of a burning cross. With such a broad time frame, there is a lot to fit into a100 or so pages, but Nelson effectively captures the roles of ordinary people in landmark events ("We called ourselves the Freedom Riders") while presenting famous leaders who changed the world, from Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks to Langston Hughes, Louis Armstrong, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and, finally, President Barack Obama. A detailed time line and a bibliography of books and DVDs closes this powerful, accessible history which will find wide circulation in both schools and public libraries." Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2012 Spring
The unnamed narrator of this graceful and personalized overview of African American history provides a sweeping account that succinctly covers history from the Colonial era to the present day. Each page of text is accompanied by a magnificent oil painting, forty-seven in all, including six dramatic double-page spreads. The illustrations, combined with the narrative, give a sense of intimacy. A tour de force. Timeline. Bib., ind. Copyright 2012 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2011 #6
"Most folks my age and complexion don't speak much about the past," begins the unnamed narrator of this graceful and personalized overview of African American history. But this doesn't stop her from telling the story in a sweeping account that succinctly covers history from the Colonial era to the present day. The aged woman tells of her own grandfather, who was captured in Africa at age six and illegally sold into slavery in 1850. From Pap's story, we get a sense of what it was like to be a slave, a Union soldier, a sharecropper during Reconstruction, and a Buffalo soldier in Oklahoma; eventually he heads north to Chicago as part of the Great Migration. From there, the narrator takes over with her first-person account that includes the women's suffrage movement, the Depression, World War II, and the civil rights movement, and ends with he pride she felt voting for President Obama. "As I cast my vote, I thought about my grandfather Pap, who didn't live to see this moment, and my three children and two brothers, who did." As in We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball (rev. 5/08), Nelson effectively creates a voice that is at once singular and representative. Each page of text is accompanied by a magnificent oil painting, most of which are moving portraits -- some of famous figures such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, and Joe Louis; others of unnamed African Americans, such as a Revolutionary War soldier, a child cleaning cotton, and a factory worker. The illustrations (forty-seven in all, including six dramatic double-page spreads), combined with the narrative, give us a sense of intimacy, as if we are hearing an elder tell stories as we look at an album of family photographs. A tour de force in the career of an author/artist who continues to outdo himself. kathleen t. horning Copyright 2011 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2011 July #2

In an undertaking even more ambitious than the multiple-award-winning We Are the Ship (2008), Nelson tells the story of African-Americans and their often central place in American history.

Directly after the prologue, the narrative begins with the U.S. Capitol, built by slaves and freeman before Nelson steps back and shows the intricate ways American and African-American history were intertwined from the earliest days of the country's founding. Using an unnamed female narrator, Nelson fashions a unique mode of storytelling that is both historical and personal. The narrator guides readers through major events in American history through the perspective of, first, enslaved people, then those legally free but hindered by discrimination and, finally, citizens able to fully participate in American life following the Civil Rights Movement. As with any work by this talented artist, the accompanying illustrations are bold and arresting. The dramatic oil paintings heighten the dignity of this story, whether they are of well-known historical figures, common folk or landscape. With such a long time period to cover, the careful choices Nelson makes of which stories to tell make this a successful effort. While there is little room for historical nuance, Nelson does include the way events such as World War I and the fight for woman suffrage affected the Black community. 

This intimate narrative makes the stories accessible to young readers and powerfully conveys how personal this history feels for many African-Americans. (Nonfiction. 10 & up) Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2011 June #3

As in We Are the Ship, Nelson knits together the nation's proudest moments with its most shameful, taking on the whole of African-American history, from Revolutionary-era slavery up to the election of President Obama. He handles this vast subject with easy grace, aided by the voice of a grandmotherly figure who's an amalgam of voices from Nelson's own family. She does not gloss over the sadness and outrage of her family's history, but her patient, sometimes weary tone ("The law didn't do a thing to stop it," she says about the Ku Klux Klan. "Shoot, some of the men wearing the sheets were lawmen") makes listeners feel the quiet power that survival requires. In jaw-dropping portraits that radiate determination and strength, Nelson paints heroes like Frederick Douglass and Joe Louis, conferring equal dignity on the slaves, workers, soldiers, and students who made up the backbone of the African-American community. The images convey strength and integrity as he recounts their contributions, including "the most important idea ever introduced to America by an African American"--Dr. King's nonviolent protest. A tremendous achievement. Ages 9-up. (Aug.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2011 September

Gr 5 Up--Expanding his focus from the close-up view of history applied in previous books, Nelson uses his formidable skills for the larger landscape: the black experience in America from slavery to the presidency. Like most surveys, the book is organized by struggles and wars; unlike traditional overviews, the facts are filtered through the eyes of a black woman with attitude to spare. This invented narrator, whose "Pap" was kidnapped as a child in Africa and whose brothers fought in World War II, does not suffer fools. Her colloquial commentary, addressed to "honey" or "chile," introduces and interprets the events. Occasionally her voice drops out, and a more textbooklike tone prevails, but mostly her presence provides the heart and soul of the story; readers will care about this information because they care about her. Nelson's oil portraits and tableaux consistently display technical virtuosity, drama, and dignity. From single-page compositions of historical personalities (Frederick Douglass, Joe Louis, Rosa Parks) and representative characters (a Revolutionary War soldier, students at Woolworth's) to full-spread, murallike scenes of a slave ship, a battle, a big band, Nelson varies the viewpoint and contrasts light and darkness to tell a riveting tale. The purpose is presented in the prologue and recast in the epilogue and author's note: "You have to know where you came from so you can move forward." Provocative and powerful, this book offers a much-needed perspective for individuals of all ages seeking to understand America's past and present.--Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library

[Page 184]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

VOYA Reviews 2012 February
A sumptuous feast of exquisite oil paintings and compelling text, Nelson's newest literary gift dazzles the senses, awakens the mind, and inspires emotion as it teaches readers about the historical experience of African Americans. Each short, simple chapter is poetically narrated by a feisty unnamed black woman. A collection of luscious paintings, so realistic one might mistake some of them for photographs, accompany the text. The book starts with how African Americans fought in the American Revolution to help free America from England, but in the end "we were stuck in a country that kept most of us as slaves." Next, Nelson writes about the horrendous conditions of slavery, Harriet Tubman's heroism, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Ku Klux Klan, the Great Migration, Duke Ellington, Joe Louis, the Tuskegee Airmen, Jim Crow laws, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King Jr., to name a few. The book ends with President Lyndon Johnson's signing of the Civil Rights Act into law in 1964. The topics are not new, but pulling them all together in one comprehensive historical stream feels fresh and helps the past come alive. History has never been taught so clearly. This would be an excellent book to share with teens who think they are not interested in history. Gazing at the stunning pictures and reading about the fascinating historical details written in such a straightforward yet powerful manner should cure anyone of historical apathy. The book includes a handy time line, bibliography, and index.--Suzanne Osman. 4Q 3P M J S A/YA Copyright 2011 Voya Reviews.