December 9, 2021


The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Renée Watson, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and Nikkolas Smith catalogs the history of slavery and Black resistance in the United States through the lens of a child researching her ancestral tree.

When a young girl is assigned a family tree project she finds herself unable to tell her family's full story because she doesn't know anything about her family before great-grandparents. After hearing this, the girl's grandmother gathers the whole family around to tell them about where they're from, chronicling their family's history from 400 years ago, before they were enslaved and brought to the United States, to the present. The grandmother ends her story on a note of hope, reminding her family about the legacy their ancestors and other Black Americans have left as they've worked to spread democracy and equality for all.

For the first third of the book--before the child's ancestors are stolen from their homes, shipped across the world, and enslaved in a new country--the digital illustrations are bright and warm, full of smiles and sunshine and open spaces. The book's second third exists in considerably more darkness and shadow as people are forcefully shipped to the New World. Though the shadows dissipate in the final third of the book, the brightness of the spreads feels more like a spotlight than sunshine, highlighting hurt and separation rather than showcasing joy and togetherness. 

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water published in November from Kokila.

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