7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #362: Featuring Robert Byrd

h1 December 22nd, 2013 by jules

“The crowds at the Hartford jail were even greater than those in New Haven.
Evidently Africans like ourselves were a novelty, and so people streamed into the jail, often traveling long distances, to see what we looked like.”

(Click image to see spread in its entirety, including the text)


Just the other day at Kirkus, I wrote about some 2013 Picture Books That Got Away — that is, those books that during the year I had planned to write about here at 7-Imp or over at Kirkus, yet for one reason or another I didn’t get to them.

One book I wanted to include in that list, yet I knew I’d be writing about it today, is Monica Edinger’s Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad (Candlewick, October 2013), illustrated by Robert Byrd. This is a lengthier picture book, geared (if you heed such labels) at slightly older readers. (“10 to 14 years old” is how the publisher thinks of it.) This is the fictionalized story of the real-life child named Margru, who later became known as Sarah Kinson, taken from her home by slave traders in Mendeland, West Africa, “one of the greenest places on earth,” in 1839. At the age of nine, Margru’s father decided she would go as a pawn to work for the family of a man in her village. This would occur in exchange for rice, given that the village in which Margru and her family lived was suffering greatly from drought and famine. “At the next harvest,” her father told her, “I will return what I owe and you will come home.” Margru did as she was told, only to find soon after that she was “in a line of captives headed for the coast.” Slave traders transported Margru and many other West Africans, including three other children, to Cuba and later to the U.S. on the Spanish slave ship called the Amistad.

The Africans aboard ship eventually revolted, yet not long after that became prisoners once again. Though they ended up as prisoners in a part of the States where slavery was considered illegal, the men aboard the ship were tried for murder in New Haven, Connecticut. Here, Margru lived, was educated, and was converted to Christianity. Later, in 1841, the Supreme Court declared that the Africans were freed. Margru returned to Africa to teach and assist in establishing a mission, only to return to America again at age sixteen, where she studied at Oberlin College — and in great despair. She missed Africa, writing to a friend, “I would not stay in this country for a thousand dollars were it not for the education.”

“It is hard to imagine, harder to remember. One moment I was doing my work as a pawn, waiting for the day when I would be back home, and the next moment,
I was in a line of captives headed for the coast.”

(Click image to see spread in its entirety)

Eventually, she returned home. Edinger closes the book on a cryptic and hopeful note, during which two men approach Margru—now grown, of course—and ask if she’d like to see her father. In her closing Author’s Note, Medinger explains how this final scene is something Margru had mentioned in a letter and that it’s not known for sure if she and her father ever met again. “In fact,” Medinger writes, “she and her husband left the mission not long after this and nothing further about her life is known.”

This is an emotionally compelling narrative, Edinger lacing it with poignant moments that depict Margru’s dreams: The child dreams of her mother, her father, her elders back home in Africa. Of the latter, she writes, “Telling us children stories of greedy Spider and clever Rabbit. Teaching us to be patient and brave always. … I dreamed of home.” In the hands of a lesser author, Margru’s story would have been a less-than-inspiring listing of facts, but Edinger makes it a gripping tale, heart-rending as it is in spots. It’s a well-paced narrative; Edinger lets the suspense and drama build, as readers wait to discover the fate of the children.

(Click to see full spread)

Byrd’s illustrations are detailed and equally dramatic. Archival documents, such as newspaper clippings, are included. (See above.) Most striking of all is the spread that describes Margru’s first journey across the ocean after first being stolen into slavery. The pages are pitch black — with white text detailing “seven weeks in a dark and airless hold.” It’s an arresting moment.

A captivating look at a captivating woman.

AFRICA IS MY HOME. Text copyright © 2013 by Monica Edinger. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Robert Byrd. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

* * * * * * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) I am flattered that 7-Imp is included in this list, and check out the good company I’m in, too.

2) A friend sent me this a couple weeks ago, and it was a good, good thing to read.

3) I’m looking forward to all kinds of new music, including from …

4) Nick Waterhouse (coming in March 2014!) and …

5) Nicole Atkins (February) and …

6) Noah Gundersen (also February) … and, most of all …

7) Lost in the Trees (also February, which will be a good month, sonically), because Ari Picker is brilliant:


What are YOUR kicks this week? And happy, happy holidays to all!

17 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #362: Featuring Robert Byrd”

  1. Hello, everyone! =)

    I am in my mother’s hometown for Christmas and New Year and I’m really enjoying my time with relatives.

    Happy Holidays! Love you all!

  2. I am so pleased when I see longer, older picture books out in the world; I think there is such a need in children’s lives for beautiful books with inspiring words and substance. Yea for Candlewick. Thank you, Monica Edinger. The Amistad story from a child’s point of view sounds fascinating—haunting really. (That newspaper clipping is shamefully surreal.) And Byrd’s Africa illustration does look like ‘the greenest place’. I’ll have to check this out.

    Jules – congrats on listing (deserved; and Tarie too.) #2 was a good read…and dang, it’s December.

    Tarie – hometown for the holidays sounds grand—enjoy.

    My kicks:
    1. both boys home for the holidays (my very quiet empty nest again reverberates w/gaming explosions, animated car squeals, shouts of characters in alien battles.)

    2. I love Christmas lights; I’d keep them up all year round if my inner-energy-conservationist would let me. So for now, I enjoy twinkling house-shaped outlines. And our tree that is like the world’s most wonderful nightlight. Ah, Christmas lights.

    3. My son’s little dog, Coetzee, had a successful, uneventful plane journey here in his carrier under the seat at my son’s feet. First time, so I was a twinge worried.

    4. Reading Neal Shusterman’s book UnWholly (2nd in Unwind trilogy.) Thumbs up.

    5. (Shhh. My husband is planning something fun or has found the perfect gift. He’s definitely pleased with himself; makes me smile watching him plot happiness.)

    6. The “fall on your knees” chorus of Oh Holy Night. Man, that high sustained note gets me every time.

    7. Such good movies out this month! I’m happily doomed to hours of darkness, drama and popcorn.

    Have a joyful holiday season kickers et al. May your days be merry and bright.

  3. Happy Solstice Imps!
    This book looks very interesting. I’ll have to check it out with my kids who are starting to be interested in history.
    Jules- So much music! Wonderful! And that poem, man. Yes.
    Also I’m glad the San Diegoans are so fond of your blog 🙂
    Tarie-Happy Holidays to you! Enjoy your family.

    I’ve got a cast of thousands coming for a party at our house in a few hours but I wanted to pop in to share some cheer with you (all).

    1. My son had a great week long trip to the National Seashore with his class.
    2. Shopping with my mom.
    3. Survived a scary snow-storm-heavy-traffic trip to Boston to see the Nutcracker with my daughter.
    4. Saw the beautiful Boston Ballet Nutcracker with my daughter.
    5. My Solstice Birthday Husband
    6. Book Club Annual Book or Booze Swap
    7. Gratitude for everyone who bought goodies from my online shops.

    Have a great week everyone.
    Merry Christmas!

  4. Tarie, happy holidays and hello to your family!

    Denise: You’ll have to report back on the perfect gift (if, you know, it’s not terribly intimate or something). … Yes, so many movies I want to see now, but not enough time or childcare. … I’m glad the dog’s feeling okay. … My favorite musician, Sam Phillips, sings “O Holy Night” on a Christmas EP she made two years ago, and what I love is that for that sustained note, she lets the guitar do the singing, instead of hitting the note herself at the end. Hey, you can hear it here, if you’re so inclined: http://notablemusic.net/tuneoftheweek/2013/sam-phillips-o-holy-night.

    Moira: Happy birthday to your husband, and I’m glad you’re not all snowed in. We had tornado warnings last night in Tennessee. I wish I were making that up. … Also: Book or Booze Swap! Sounds mighty fun.

  5. Hi Denise!

  6. Oh wow, going to find Africa is My Home at the library. Thanks for sharing it, Jules.
    Jules, congrats for getting on a great list. Thanks, too, for a new blog to read…that poem was beautiful.
    Tarie, enjoy your family.
    Denise, Christmas lights are the best, especially with how dark it is at this time of year.
    Moira, loved #2. I might have to suggest #6.
    My kicks:
    1. Grants: one for books, one for an author 3 day visit.
    2. Book club last week.
    3. Meeting with some Russian speaking parents about how to support them with library books.
    4. 14 Fibs of Gregory K. By Greg Pincus
    5. Illustrator Art Show at the big, beautiful library in downtown Portland with Oregon children’s illustrators.
    6. Cookie bake with Grnad Girl.
    7. Grand girl is for weekend.
    Merry Christmas.

  7. Hello, Kickers!

    I have been a baaaad Kicker for weeks now. Actually, I’ve been maybe the worst kind of baaaad Kicker: a vampire Kicker, showing up every week to extract all the happiness and goodness that you’ve been sharing… and then slinking off, sated, without even once so much as looking back on your drained and lifeless forms—

    Wait — what? Sorry. Where am I? Oh. Right. 7-Imp… Ahem.

    Anyhow, I just wanted to say now that I have missed terribly the sensation of lingering here on Sunday mornings and afternoons. (Thank the gods and the Internets for the other days of the week.) Looking forward to visiting with you again soon!

    In the meantime, please all have a SAFE and HAPPY couple of weeks. Of course, anyone who frequents (even belatedly) the Sunday posts here knows how much good there is to be found in life and the world, from things micro to macro: well, I wish all of you and those close to your heart way too many such kicks to cram into a mere seven bullet points (even impossible bullet points).

    Thank you especially, Jules, for bringing it together every week!

  8. Happy Sunday, Imps! Happy holidays!

    Congratulations, Monica! Wow.

    Jules: Have I recommended Maria Taylor to you yet? Give her a listen, as well as Azure Ray. I am listening to the Nicole Atkins song you posted. Thanks!

    Tarie: Have fun visiting your relatives!

    Denise: Enjoy your time with your family. I think that strings of solid-colored lights can most definitely become year-round lights. (To me, the solid strings look a little less “holiday lights” than the multicolored versions.)

    Moira: Happy birthday to your husband! Have a fun party.

    Jone: High-five for the grants and the grands!

    JES: Here’s an image of Buffy the Vampire Slayer kicking a vampire. (screenshot from one of the video game)

    Do y’all know who wrote dialogue for the BtVS video games? My favorite Boston boys, Christopher Golden and Tom Sniegoski. 🙂

    My kicks from this past week:
    1) Performing
    2) Life
    3) Bonding
    4) Laughing
    5) Sharing
    6) Time
    7) Remember

    My current show is so delightful. So happy to be a part of it.

  9. jules – oh, I love Sam’s rendition… it’s like you hear that note in your soul.

    Hi Moira! Boston ballet Nutcracker sounds lovely.

    jone – art shows, grand girl & cookie baking; very festive.

    JES – I think I’ve felt your vampirish shadow lurking like mist over a bog (or a blog) late at night. ha-ha! We’ve missed you…

  10. Stay safe in your travels, everyone, and enjoy the family, food and fun 🙂

  11. Jone, you mean you’re writing the grants or got ’em already? I wish I could see that art show.

    You’re welcome, John! And I say it’s okay to be a kick vampire.

    Hi, Donna Marie!

  12. Little Willow, looks like spam was trying to eat your comment for breakfast. So sorry. Just now caught it. (And for most of yesterday I forgot it was Sunday!)

    No, you hadn’t recommended them, but I’ll take a listen.

    Happy holidays to all!

  13. I could have been clearer. I wrote the grants and found out I got them. WOOT! Also my assistant had her name on a grant to get more Russian language books in the library. We met with Russian speaking moms who are part of a committee called Natural Leaders to get them more involved in school. Christmas came early at school.

  14. Hi! Missing everyone this past month or so. Glad to know everyone is well and celebrating!
    This book is intruiging – looking forward to it. Love the illustrations.
    My Kicks would have included:
    immenent (yikes! too much Christmas candy makes me forget how to spell it!) trip to Ohio to in-laws for Christmas.
    wonderful visit with supervisor social worker – so big-hearted, kind, encouraging – who visited our Tiny for the obligatory monthly visit because our social worker was too busy.
    Happy Holidays all! More next week!

  15. PS: congrats on the listing, Jules – very cool description AND list you are on!

  16. Allison, congrats on the wonderful visit. Not surprised it went well!

    Happy new year!

  17. My kicks are all about recovery and family.

    1. Visited SC to see son Jason and family for pre-holiday celebration. Much happiness and love.

    2. Dog tangled in the computer cord, computer found face down on floor.

    3. Computer worked for a day and a half after, then quit, taking everything with it, which turned out to be unrecoverable.

    4. With help of family and friends, have reconstructed about 8/10 of my present work, little of my past work.

    5. Had holidays with son Jason and family and daughter Heidi and family, much hilarity, many presents, much love.

    6. Moving forward on writing, leaving what is lost behind.

    Sending good wishes for the New Year to all of the 7 Imps family.


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