Thursday, July 10, 2014

Poetry Friday: We Shall Overcome

Last week was the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It’s the perfect time to read poet Debbie Levy’s new picture book WE SHALL OVERCOME: THE STORY OF A SONG.

Read more about it at Debbie's website.
I’m featuring the book for Poetry Friday today, but be sure to stop back next week when Debbie visits Author Amok. She’s joining me for “5 Questions for the Author.”

Today's host is my friend
Linda Kulp at Write Time!
I picked up WE SHALL OVERCOME for several reasons:

1.   Debbie Levy is a local author whose work I’ve enjoyed and admired. 



2.   “The Story of a Song” is an intriguing topic for a picture book.

3.  This is the kind of book I like to recommend to educators when I visit our diverse local schools.

WE SHALL OVERCOME lived up to my expectations on all three counts. But it also made me cry. Like big, blubbery, I-can’t-see-what-I’m-reading-because-tears kind of cry.

With a deceptively light tough, WE SHALL OVERCOME traces the song that became a Civil Rights anthem to its roots in American slavery. The book opens with these lines:

Back in slavery times—
when enslaved people worked long days
with no pay and no say,
no freedom, no fairness,
no choice and no change—
the people sang.

They suffered, yet they sang—
to soothe the hurt,
to fight the cruelty,
to declare that—yes!—they were human beings.

Each spread shows how the song moved from cotton fields to black churches, from community to community, evolving over time. “I’ll overcome” became “We will overcome” during the early years of the Civil Rights movement.

They started to protest.
They brought a church song, “I Will Overcome,”
to the streets.
But since they were marching and working together,
they sang “We will Overcome.”
We, together, will overcome.

We see the song’s power to comfort protesters at segregated lunch counters. It is taken on the road by a group called the Freedom Singers, and sung at the historic 1963 March on Washington. But the story doesn’t end when the Civil Rights Act passes. Debbie continues to follow “We Shall Overcome” as it travels to South Africa and throughout the world.

I loved this book’s combination of music, history, and human rights. But I think what made me cry was how Debbie gets this point across: the words of “We Shall Overcome” represent a deep faith in humanity and in our ability to—someday—value all human beings as equals.

Debbie was kind enough to provide this wonderful photograph of herself and the book's illustrator, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, at the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, DC.


King incorporated the words "We shall overcome" into his speeches.
A spread from WE SHALL OVERCOME
from Vanessa Brantley-Newton's website.

One feature of the book I’d like to highlight comes after the text. WE SHALL OVERCOME includes an easy-to-follow timeline of the events mentioned in the book. Thumbnails of Vanessa's wonderful art brings these dates to life.

Thanks to Debbie Levy for giving me permission to post excerpts from WE SHALL OVERCOME today. For more information about the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, visit the Civil Rights 50 website.

Next week, Debbie will be here in person to tell us about her writing process. I can’t wait to hear how she developed, researched, and wrote the story of this important song.

17 comments:

Diane Mayr said...

This title will be added to my library order this morning! (I love a good cry, don't you?)

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

I'm already familiar with THE YEAR OF GOODBYES and now am looking forward to reading this one and your interview next week! I'll make sure to have tissues handy... for the book, not the interview.

Author Amok said...

Diane, this book is a great choice for any library.

Michelle -- Didn't you love THE YEAR OF GOODBYES? I shared it with my aunt, who is secretary for a rabbi working in international relations. She loved it too.

LInda Baie said...

I have The Year of Goodbyes, & still need to read it! This book looks like one I will find for me and for school, Laura. There's been some terrible shouting here lately about same-sex marriages, sad to tell. Hoping that more will step up for support. Thanks for sharing.

Jone said...

Two more books to add to my list. I love backstories. Will have to return for the interview next week.

Margaret Simon said...

I want to add this to my classroom library. I feel it is so important for our students to learn about this time in history. Growing up in Mississippi during the Civil Rights era makes me much more adamant about teaching diversity and acceptance through empathy.

Monica said...

What a great topic for a book. I'll be sure to stop back next week.

Gatheringbooks said...

Lovely poem. I think the beauty and power of it lies in the fact while this captures the time of slavery its message rings true to today. In the midst of difficulty we must sing and we must overcome.

thanks for sharing this poem. It resonates with me completely.

Linda said...

Such a lovely review, Laura. Thank you for sharing this title with us.
I have read A YEAR OF GOODBYES, and it was so touching I went back and read it a second time! Debbie is a very talented writer. I can't wait to read about her writing process!

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Thanks, Laura, and thank you, Debbie. I'm listening to "The Help" on audio right now and am filled with the outrage and shame of our Jim Crow past, so I'm very ready to feel some hope expressed in music.

Author Amok said...

Thanks for all of your comments. The idea to learn about history through the evolution of a song caught my attention. I think WE SHALL OVERCOME would make a good jumping off point for classroom discussion.

Carol Varsalona said...

Laura, thank you for the titles and the excellent review of such an important topic.

Mary Lee said...

So many great books about the civil rights movement are coming out! Put REVOLUTION (a novel that reads like a documentary) by D. WIles on your list, and BROWN GIRL DREAMING (a novel in verse) by J. Woodson.

I'll be adding this one to the set! Thanks!!

Tabatha said...

Yay, Debbie Levy! Looking forward to hearing from her next week.

Catherine said...

Thank you so much for sharing this book. I'll be sure to order it when I get back to school. Looking forward to your interview with Debbie Levy next week!

Tara Smith said...

I've put tis book on my wish list - it would make a great addition to our Civil Rights unit. And, I need to get The Year of Goodbyes, too!

Debbie Levy said...

Laura, I love your post and I love these comments! See you in this space next week.