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Ellen's Broom

Ellen's Broom

5.0 2
by Kelly Starling Lyons, Daniel Minter (Illustrator)
A young girl learns a new meaning for freedom during the time of Reconstruction

Ellen always knew the broom resting above the hearth was special. Before it was legal for her mother and father to officially be married, the broom was what made them a family anyway. But now all former slaves who had already been married in their hearts could register as lawful husband


A young girl learns a new meaning for freedom during the time of Reconstruction

Ellen always knew the broom resting above the hearth was special. Before it was legal for her mother and father to officially be married, the broom was what made them a family anyway. But now all former slaves who had already been married in their hearts could register as lawful husband and wife.

When Ellen and her family make the long trip to the courthouse dressed in their best, she brings the broom her parents had jumped so many years before. Even though freedom has come, Ellen knows the old traditions are important too. After Mama and Papa's names are recorded in the register, Ellen nearly bursts with pride as her parents jump the broom once again.

Ellen is a wonderfully endearing character whose love for her family is brought to life in Daniel Minter's rich and eye-catching block print illustrations.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lyons’s (One Million Men and Me) modest story, set during Reconstruction, illuminates a historical milestone as well as the African-American slavery-era wedding ritual of broom jumping. After slavery ends, Ellen and her family rejoice with other members of their church when the deacon announces that the law will now recognize the marriages of former slaves. This includes Ellen’s parents, who tell their children about the tradition of “broom weddings,” in which slave couples (whose unions were not always honored by their masters) “held hands and leaped into life together” while jumping over a broom. Ellen carries the broom her parents used as they join other couples walking to the courthouse to officially register their marriages; she then decorates the broom with flowers to create a bouquet for her mother. The narrative has a loving, homespun tone, though the story’s emotions feel subdued. Minter’s (The First Marathon) vibrant linoleum block prints—which use springtime colors for the present day and sepia tones for flashbacks to the time of slavery—give the book more of an emotional charge. Ages 5–8. Agent: Dwyer & O’Grady. (Jan.)
Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
After the Civil War, young Ellen rejoices with the others when the preacher at church announces that now former slaves living as married can be married in the eyes of the law. Ellen knows that the broom on the family wall symbolized the only wedding slaves were allowed, when they jumped over it together. Her mother, father, and family go to the Freedman's Bureau to officially register their marriage. They bring the broom, which Ellen and her sister decorate to add to the special occasion. Then it is hung back on the wall with the marriage certificate. Minter creates strong characters with his eye-catching hand printed and painted linoleum block prints; they dominate the pages in vignettes and full-page scenes. In particular, he invests Ellen and her family with a sense of quiet dignity in their modest house. The visuals add to the uplifting spiritual message of the simple text. A note adds the author's background to the story. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3—According to an author's note, while Lyons was researching family history, she learned of the role played by the Freedmen's Bureau in authenticating the unregistered marriages of former slaves. This Reconstruction-era story imagines what that experience would be like. After their preacher announces the opportunity to register and be considered legally married, Ellen's parents and siblings gather around the broom hanging above their hearth. Papa explains the custom of "jumping the broom"—the ritual enacted by slaves to signify marital commitment: "we put this here broom on the ground, held hands and leaped into life together." The family then walks to the courthouse where Mama and Papa are married, with Mama holding the broom, which is later hung above the fireplace. Minter's striking hand-painted linoleum block prints create a range of physical and emotional settings as the parents reflect on their past and celebrate the significance of being "legal." Warm brown faces reflect the brilliant golden rays filling the church in a colorful opening imbued with joyous reverence. A muted palette with softer borders is employed for flashbacks, such as that of a husband and wife being cruelly separated by a master. The pink of the protagonist's dress connects to the flowers she and her sister gather to decorate the broom, as it becomes a link between their heritage and futures. Lyons's homespun and heartfelt dialogue combines with Minter's exquisite use of line, color, and composition to produce a story that radiates deep faith and strong family bonds.—Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
Ellen cheerfully watches as her parents, former slaves, legally register their wedding at a Freedman's Bureau during Reconstruction. There's happiness in the air for Ellen, her family and all their neighbors as they attend church services celebrating the end of slavery and the beginning of freedom. The announcement from the pulpit that slave marriages can now be recognized brings more joy to Ellen's parents, who share stories with their children of the forced separation of families and the importance of the broom that was used in their own wedding, a broom with a place of honor over the fireplace. It is Ellen's idea to weave flowers through that broom for the new ceremony. The broom will stay with the family now as a symbol of the past and as a part of family tradition. Stories for young children set during Reconstruction are not common, and Lyons has called upon her own family stories and marriage to shine a spotlight on the period. Minter uses hand-painted linoleum block prints for a bright, sunny and upbeat accompaniment. Scenes of slave times are colored in sepia to set them apart. A spirited story filled with the warmth of a close family celebrating a marriage before God and the law. (author's note) (Picture book. 4-7)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.70(w) x 10.70(h) x 0.30(d)
AD610L (what's this?)
Age Range:
5 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Kelly Starling Lyons (www.kellystarlinglyons.com) lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Daniel Minter (www.danielminter.com) lives in Portland, Maine.

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Ellen's Broom 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mrs-Thompson More than 1 year ago
This book is written for families to enjoy reading together. It reminds each one of us of the importance of family traditions and those beautiful memories we can pass on from one generation to another. I had the wonderful pleasure of hearing the author read this book aloud at an event at Agnor Hurt Elementary School. I absolutely loved this story and would recommend other books by Kelly Starling Lyons also. I bought this book and gave it as a gift to my granddaughter, Alexis! Thank you, Mrs. Thompson