All Different Now

h1 July 1st, 2014 by jules

“And nobody knew, as we ate a little, talked a little, and headed to the fields
as the sun was rising, that soon, it would be all different.”

(Click to enlarge spread)

It would have been very fitting to post about this picture book in June, but I’m mostly disorganized. (I put this book in a Read Right Away stack, on account of my love for the illustrations of E.B. Lewis. But then I promptly misplaced this stack and couldn’t find it, for the very life of me.)

It’s July 1st, though, and clearly I found my Read Right Away stack. Better late than never.

If ever there were doubt that E.B. Lewis is one of the greatest living illustrators, Angela Johnson’s All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom (Simon & Schuster, May 2014) would put an end to that. This is the story of the first Juneteenth, the day freedom arrived to the last slaves in Texas in the year 1865. As noted in the book’s back matter, Confederate troops kept the Union soldiers from entering Texas to tell slaves about the Emancipation Proclamation, and then—even after the war had ended—plantation owners kept news from slaves. Texas slaves didn’t know about their freedom until Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to make the announcement on June 19, 1865, a day celebrated now as “Juneteenth.” Juneteenth, Johnson writes in a closing note, “has also morphed into a more national, symbolic celebration of respect for all cultures.”

In this beautiful picture book, Johnson and Lewis bring us slaves who wake thinking it will be a typical day of working under the hot Texas sun — that is, until word spreads from the port to the fields. Johnson’s rich, visually descriptive language, noting the sights, smells, and sounds of the day (“A June morning breeze off the port blew the smell of honeysuckle past the fields, across the yard, and into our room to wake us”), anchors this story, so triumphant it soars. This is a picture book with a lot of space to breathe, as sentences sometimes linger across spreads. (This is fitting, given the astonishment of the slaves receiving and processing the news.)

Lewis’ watercolors are a wonder of light and shadow. In fact, in a moving Illustrator’s Note (the Author’s Note is also powerful) he notes his attempts to capture the “whole mood of the day in shades of gray …. I illustrated not just jubilation and celebrations, but expressions of repose, disconnect, surprise, and contemplation.” The School Library Journal review notes, in fact, that his “skillful watercolor renderings depict nuanced changes in lighting and focus, thereby capturing individual responses to a community’s new reality—from incredulity and quiet contemplation to rapture.” Lewis pulls this off sublimely, as the master illustrator he is.

This one has received starred reviews all over the place, well-deserved ones. “Elegant” is how one reviewer puts it. Indeed.

Here are a couple more spreads, which I broke up in order to see more clearly, but you can click on each one to see the spreads in their entirety.

“Then we worked, and worked, and worked some more under the hot Texas sun.”
(Click to see spread in its entirety)

“I watched as my aunt Laura sang as she held her baby. Mr. Jake, who some say was a hundred, cried quietly. And a group of grown people bowed their heads and whispered things to each other I could not hear.”
(Click to see spread in its entirety)

* * * * * * *

ALL DIFFERENT NOW: JUNETEENTH, THE FIRST DAY OF FREEDOM. Copyright © 2014 by Angela Johnson. Illustrations © 2014 by E.B. Lewis. All images reproduced by permission of the publisher, Simon & Schuster, New York.

3 comments to “All Different Now

  1. Wow.

  2. Love to hear your love (and respect) for E.B. Lewis.

  3. A prefect example for my argument that Children’s Picture Books contain literature and fine art that is so under-appreciated and dismissed. A wonderful book and story to read to Second graders. Just beautiful.

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