We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song


It only takes a few words to create change. It only takes a few people to believe that change is possible. And when those people sing out, they can change the world. "We Shall Overcome" is one of their songs. From the song's roots in America's era of slavery through to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and today, "We Shall Overcome" has come to represent the fight for equality and freedom around the world. This important book, lyrically written by Debbie Levy and paired with elegant, collage-style art by ...

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It only takes a few words to create change. It only takes a few people to believe that change is possible. And when those people sing out, they can change the world. "We Shall Overcome" is one of their songs. From the song's roots in America's era of slavery through to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and today, "We Shall Overcome" has come to represent the fight for equality and freedom around the world. This important book, lyrically written by Debbie Levy and paired with elegant, collage-style art by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, pays tribute to the heroic spirit of the famous song that encompasses American history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The power of song to bolster courage, combat bigotry, and effect change courses through this dramatization of the civil rights movement. The lyrics to several variations of “We Shall Overcome” serve as a backdrop to Levy’s fluid free verse, which opens “Back in slavery times” as slaves sang “to soothe the hurt, to fight the cruelty.” Levy (The Year of Goodbyes) moves quickly through the Civil War to the mid-20th century, when African-Americans began protesting “unfairness, hate, and violence,” and “brought a church song, ‘I Will Overcome,’ to the streets.” (“We” soon replaced “I.”) The Freedom Singers’ national tour, the 1963 March on Washington, and President Johnson’s televised 1965 speech evoking the song’s message and words are among the pivotal events mentioned. Brantley-Newton (Let Freedom Sing) counterbalances the stark inequalities Levy highlights with brightly colored collagelike images that portray Americans of all colors standing and singing together. A timeline follows the evolution of “We Shall Overcome,” citing its role in specific protests, to close out this enlightening and inspiring book. Ages 5–up. Author’s agent: Caryn Wiseman, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Illustrator’s agent: Lori Nowicki, Painted Words. (Dec.)
Children's Literature - Mary Quattlebaum
Award-winning author Levy tells the story of the great Civil Rights anthem in a book perfect for African-American History Month. Lines from the song itself punctuate levy’s lyrical free verse, which provides a history of slavery and change. She opens by describing the conditions of slaves in language easily grasped by youngsters: they “worked long days/with no pay and no say,/no freedom, no fairness,/no choice and no chance.” Even though the Civil War ended slavery in the United States, black people still were often denied basic human rights. “We Shall Overcome” became a song of protest and a cry for change. Brantley-Newton places the song lyrics in unexpected places in her fresh mixed-media artwork and shows how the song traveled to and helped galvanize change in India, East Germany, South Korea, Northern Ireland, China, and the Middle East. The book closes with an image of an ethnically diverse group of contemporary kids, singing to “declare that—yes!—we are all human beings, deserving of respect.” A timeline provides valuable information about the historical events portrayed in the illustrations and touched upon in the text. Reviewer: Mary Quattlebaum; Ages 3 to 8.
School Library Journal
Gr 1–4—Beginning in slavery times, this "story of a song" moves through the Civil Rights Movement up to present day. As protests mounted in the mid-1940s, the song "I Will Overcome" was changed to "We Will Overcome" to reflect the protesters' working together. Folk singer Pete Seeger changed the "will" to "shall" and sang the song for Martin Luther King, Jr. In the early 1960s, the Freedom Singers traveled 50,000 miles across the country, singing "We Shall Overcome" and bringing a message of hope to all who listened. Laws were passed and things began to slowly change. President Lyndon Johnson quoted the lyrics in a televised speech. The song was heard in South Africa and then many other countries. Those struggling and working toward a better life embraced it and the message it brought. "We will live in peace, We will live in peace some day." The time line at the end of the book chronicles the life of the song, explaining it and some of the illustrations in greater detail. Extensive source notes include Internet sites where the song can be heard and suggestions for further reading. The colorful, mixed-media, collage illustrations are detailed and beautiful, giving more life to the words of this historic and inspiring anthem. The art appears on full spreads with phrases from the song in large print above or below the text. This handsome book will be highly useful for classroom and family discussions.—Sara-Jo Lupo Sites, George F. Johnson Memorial Library, Endicott, NY
Kirkus Reviews
An inviting introduction to a spirited and spiritual anthem. Levy traces the evolution of this iconic song from its beginnings as black church music during slavery through its emergence as a labor protest song in the 1940s to its stirring place of pride in the civil rights movement at lunch counters, on picket lines and at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington. President Lyndon Johnson invoked its words prior to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. So powerful were the music and words that they later traveled to East Germany, South Africa, India and Czechoslovakia. It is still being sung today, as it was on the day that Barak Obama was elected. The free-verse text is informative and engaging. Equally effective is the mixed-media and collage design from Brantley-Newton, which depicts men, women and children holding hands and raising their many voices as one. Their multihued faces and colorful attire stand out against a white background decorated with soft, marbled swirls of color. Verses of the song, presented in bold type, provide visual appeal and should encourage children to listen to the many recordings available and sing along. A slice of musical Americana celebrating community protest against injustice. (timeline, sources, recommended Web recordings, bibliography) (Informational picture book. 6-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781423119548
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
  • Publication date: 12/17/2013
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 424,767
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 10.30 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Debbie Levy (www.debbielevybooks.com) is the author of The Year of Goodbyes, Imperfect Spiral, Maybe I'll Sleep in the Bathtub Tonight, and many other books for young readers. A former newspaper editor and lawyer, Debbie is a graduate of the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan Law School. She loves to read, kayak, fish, swim, and take long walks. Debbie lives in Maryland with her husband. They have two grown sons.

Vanessa Brantley-Newton (oohlaladesignstudio.blogspot.com) attended both the Fashion Institute of Technology and the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where she studied fashion and children's book illustration. She is the illustrator of Ruby and the Booker Boys; Let Freedom Sing, which she also wrote; One Love; and Presenting Tallulah, by Tori Spelling, along with many other books. Vanessa lives in East Orange, New Jersey, with her husband and daughter.

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