Friday, February 26, 2010

Poetry Friday: Carole Boston Weatherford

The day I turned ten
Our church was quiet. No meetings, no marches.
Mama left me in Sunday school
With a soft kiss and coins for the offering plate.

from Birmingham, 1963 by Carole Boston Weatherford

Our local SCBWI region is preparing for its annual March conference. The theme is "Creating Diversity in Children's Literature." Poet Carole Boston Weatherford is the keynote author.

I couldn't get Becoming Billie Holliday at the library (too popular!), so I found Weatherford's book, Birmingham, 1963. In the picture book, a 10-year-old girl witnesses the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.


Here's what I absolutely love about this book -- Weatherford's poems are paired with archival photos from the bombing and the 1960s civil rights movement. Using photos as a jumping off point for poetry is a powerful exercise (one of my favorite examples is Sharon Old's "I Go Back to May 1937.")

The narrator of Birmingham, 1963, is waiting to sing a hymn at church. She says,

As I waited, four big girls giggled on their way
To the restroom. I would have tagged along
If I thought they'd include me.

This poem faces the photograph of a hymn book opened to the words, "Jesus loves the little chidlren, All the children of the world; Red and yellow, black and white, They are precious in His sight."

As with any good picture book, it's the connections the reader makes between words and images -- the things that are not spelled out -- that leave an impression.

The last series of poems in the book are vivid portraits of the girls killed in the bombing, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, and Carole Robertson. We get to see the girls not as victims, but as children with friends and interests and dreams.

There's more poetry to enjoy and share at Check It Out, our Poetry Friday host for this week.

10 comments:

Jeannine Atkins said...

What a great review (with great pictures). I read this book a while back, and you reminded me of what I loved about it.

I envy you getting to hear Carole speak!

writer2b said...

Thanks for the great review. I'm going to look for a copy of this book!

jama said...

Thanks for the review, Laura. I'm anxious to see this book!

Irene Latham said...

I love this book, Laura! Thanks for sharing. And I am so sorry I wasn't able to repair your verbage at last week's roundup... that linky tool has its limits. Happy day to you!

Laura said...

That is a great book. I'm glad Carole Weatherford wrote it.

Laura Evans

Author Amok said...

Irene -- that's okay. The mistake was my fault.

I'm very much looking forward to hearing Carole Weatherford speak. Her picture book bio of John Coltrane is also good, but this story has such emotional weight. Well suited to poetry and coming at the event from different angles.

Mary Lee said...

This is an important story! I can't wait to check this book out and read all the poems and see all the pictures!

Author Amok said...

I was thinking of "The Watsons Go to Birmingham -- 1963" because I loved that novel. It deals with the bombings in the context of a fmaily.

This book has a different feel, stark and immediate.

maclibrary said...

Wow, I immediately thought of the The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963.

Sherry said...

I thought since you enjoy poetry that I'd invite you to contribute your list of favorite poems to my survey. Read more about it here: http://www.semicolonblog.com/?p=9520