Circle Unbroken

Overview

As she teaches her granddaughter to sew a traditional sweetgrass basket, a grandmother weaves a story, going back generations to her grandfather's village in faraway Africa. There, as a boy, he learned to make baskets so tightly woven they could hold the rain. Even after being stolen away to a slave ship bound for America, he remembers what he learned and passes these memories on to his children - as they do theirs.

A grandmother tells the tale of Gullahs and their ...

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Overview

As she teaches her granddaughter to sew a traditional sweetgrass basket, a grandmother weaves a story, going back generations to her grandfather's village in faraway Africa. There, as a boy, he learned to make baskets so tightly woven they could hold the rain. Even after being stolen away to a slave ship bound for America, he remembers what he learned and passes these memories on to his children - as they do theirs.

A grandmother tells the tale of Gullahs and their beautiful sweetgrass baskets that keep their African heritage alive.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Gracefully constructed...as intricate as the baskets and the history to which it pays tribute." — Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"Clear poetic words and exquisite watercolor illustrations depict how the small circular basket holds the big circle of African-American history....Lewis' astonishing pictures combine the panoramas of upheaval and war with portraits of individuals in small circles weaving and passing on their heritage in craft and story." — Booklist, Starred Review

"Raven's text masterfully frames several hundred years of African-American history within the picture-book format. Lewis's double-page watercolor images are poignant and perfectly matched to the text and mood." — School Library Journal

"In solemn Gullah cadences, an old woman passes on to a grandchild centuries of history embodied in the Sea Islands' distinctive sweetgrass baskets...Powerfully evoking the passage of successive generations linked by the ancient skill." — Kirkus Reviews

The Washington Post
Aside from two pages depicting the passage and sale of slaves, the book dwells less on the sadness, violence and cruelty of the black experience in America than on the joy and dignity sustained by a people against all odds. E.B. Lewis's watercolors are simply luminous. — Elizabeth Ward
Publishers Weekly
In the opening scene, an African-American woman encircles the granddaughter who sits on her lap, guiding her fingers in the sewing of sweetgrass baskets. The circle motif weaves in and out of Raven's (Angels in the Dust) poetic tale, referring not just to loving embraces but to the tight, round coils of a Gullah basket, and the ties that bind past to present. Through the story of the girl's "old-timey grandfather," Grandma entwines the history of the Africans' capture with the history of Gullah baskets-which are still crafted today in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia. The girl's African ancestors proudly made baskets so tight they could hold rain, "but the wide, deep ocean held the rain, too, and the rain fell bitter as your grandfather's tears when the slave men came and bound him in chains." Raven's lyrical prose resonates with such emotional connections, and traces the weaving skill as it passes from the Africans to the captives in America to today's roadside craftsmen and women: "And when your fingers talk just right that circle will go out and out again-past slavery and freedom, old ways and new, and your basket will hold the past." Echoing the almost epic style of the text, Lewis's (Joe-Joe's First Flight) watercolors depict lush scenes of Africa that fade to a doleful, monochromatic scene of capture; the Civil War unfolds as a sea of blue-coated soldiers blurred against a gray-blue sky. With repeated readings, children will begin to absorb the many layers of this gracefully constructed tale, as intricate as the baskets and the history to which it pays tribute. Ages 6-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
A grandmother lovingly tells her granddaughter the history of weaving sweetgrass baskets. Her tale begins in Africa with her old-timey grandparents. They lived near a river that grew stalks of rice and tall grassy reeds. When the young people reached a certain age they were taken to sacred places—the boys with the men, the girls with the women. In these places they learned the secrets of weaving baskets so tight they could hold rainwater. Each basket began with a coil. A circle unbroken. When these people were taken from Africa and brought to Georgia and South Carolina, they found similar reeds and kept the tradition of weaving the baskets throughout future generations, repeating the tale and teaching the skills. The rhythmic, poetic language is beautifully illustrated with colorful full page pictures and vignette accents on the pages of text. A sensitive and enlightening description of a people and their culture. Factual information about sweetgrass baskets and a bibliography for further research will be appreciated by readers whose curiosity about this craft extends beyond this telling. 2004, Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar Straus and Giroux, Ages 5 to 10.
—Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 5-A book about the origins of the intricate technique and art of basket making as preserved by the Africans who were brought to America as slaves and their descendants. A grandmother guides her granddaughter's hands as she teaches her the art of basket sewing. When the child asks her how she came to make baskets, the woman's answer harkens back to a time when one of their ancestors, the child's "old-timey grandfather," is being initiated into manhood in a village in Africa. Part of the rite involves being able to make a grass basket woven or coiled so tightly that it can hold water. Soon after this event, the young man is captured, transported to America, and sold as a slave at an auction in Charleston, SC. During the day he works the fields, but by night he makes baskets, and this skill is passed down from one generation to the next. Raven's text masterfully frames several hundred years of African-American history within the picture-book format. Lewis's double-page, watercolor images are poignant and perfectly matched to the text and mood. A section at the end of the book offers information about the "coil" or "Gullah" baskets, as they are known today, as well as the regions of Africa where this art form originated. This title works as both a story and informational book; consider it as a first purchase.-Mary N. Oluonye, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In solemn Gullah cadences, an old woman passes on to a grandchild centuries of history embodied in the Sea Islands' distinctive sweetgrass baskets, as in equally solemn watercolors, Lewis takes the tale from an ancestral African village, through the Middle Passage and slavery days, to changes brought by the automobile and distant modern wars. Powerfully evoking the passage of successive generations linked by the ancient skill to create rice-winnowing baskets or "sewn" so tightly that they can "hold the rain," this elaborates on the equally poetic, but briefer and more impressionistic, account of the same history in Sandra Belton's Beauty, Her Basket (2003). (afterword, bibliography) (Picture book. 7-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312376031
  • Publisher: Square Fish
  • Publication date: 12/26/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 48
  • Sales rank: 294,040
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: AD1050L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.48 (w) x 10.51 (h) x 0.19 (d)

Meet the Author

Margot Raven and E. B. Lewis collaborated on Circle Unbroken, a Booklist Top 10 Black History Book for Youth. Their most recent picture book was Night Boat to Freedom, published by FSG in 2006. The author lives in Charleston, South Carolina. The artist, a Caldecott Honor Medalist for Coming on Home Soon, lives in Folsom, New Jersey.

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Reading Group Guide

In Margot Theis Raven’s Circle Unbroken: The Story of a Basket and Its People, a grandmother shares family stories with her granddaughter while demonstrating the techniques of making the famous Gullah coiled basket. In West Africa, Grandmother’s “old-timey” grandfather lived on the riverbanks near rice fields where he learned the art of weaving baskets. When grandfather was captured and transported to South Carolina as a slave, he continued sewing baskets in the traditional way. Today, tourists to the Sea Islands in South Carolina can buy baskets woven by descendants of slaves brought to America. An author’s note provides excellent details about the history of the sweetgrass “coil” or Gullah basket, its history on Africa’s West Coast, and its journey to the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia.

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