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We Troubled the Waters

We Troubled the Waters

by Ntozake Shange, Rod Brown (Illustrator)

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Jim Crow; Brown v. Board of Education; Bull Connor; KKK; Birmingham; the Lorraine Motel; Rosa; Martin; and Malcolm.

From slavery to the separation of "colored" and "white" and from horrifying oppression to inspiring courage, there are countless stories—both forgotten and immortalized—of everyday and extraordinary people who acted for justice


Jim Crow; Brown v. Board of Education; Bull Connor; KKK; Birmingham; the Lorraine Motel; Rosa; Martin; and Malcolm.

From slavery to the separation of "colored" and "white" and from horrifying oppression to inspiring courage, there are countless stories—both forgotten and immortalized—of everyday and extraordinary people who acted for justice during the civil rights movement that changed our nation.

Award-winning poet Ntozake Shange and illustrator Rod Brown give voice to all those who fought for their unalienable rights in a triumphant book about the power of the human spirit.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Della A. Yannuzzi
Poems written by author and poet Shange depict the everyday lives of amazing people who fought for justice during the Civil Rights Movement. Illustrator Brown's paintings show the emotional experiences that African Americans endured during this time. Poems capture the story of hardship, joy, sadness, and hope, beginning with Booker T. Washington School where children were eager to learn and just wanted a place to learn. The poem "Cleaning Gal" begins, "if they catch me sittin/just' for a moment I might lose this heah job/but I can't ?ford to do that...." "Water Fountains," "Where I Live," and "Crying Trees, where slaves were hung," tell the story of a people who died and cried out for justice. Rosa Parks in the front of a bus shows the bravery of one woman who refused to give in to racism. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s poem begins with "millions of denigrated/humiliated negroes/without enough food/land/schools, or shoes always walkin' in fear...." The unity of a race is shown in the poem "And We Marched" as they "walk arm in arm, marching cause this is our land too was time somebody knew." The poems are stark and strong while the bold, emotion-filled paintings fill the pages. The author has written a powerful book, a story of a fight for freedom, told through poems and illustration that linger long after the book is put down. Reviewer: Della A. Yannuzzi
Publishers Weekly
This unflinching collection of poems and paintings portrays the struggle for civil rights in all its anguish and triumph. Shange (Ellington Was Not a Street), an Obie Award–winning playwright and poet, crafts powerful vignettes that trace the movement from 1941 to the present, her malleable voice creating indelible characters and moments. Lynching is the topic of the harrowing “Crying Trees”: “how can our boys be some decorations in the forest/ never to kiss good night again/ never to hold other sons in their arms again/ cut em down now if we dare.” Brown's (From Slave Ship to Freedom) iconic, earth-toned paintings add even more dimension. Bodies hang surreally on stem-short nooses against chaotic foliage—a nod to the era's influential song, “Strange Fruit,” perhaps. Insightful compositions capture the dignity of “garbage boys” and the palpable outrage of Martin Luther King Jr. (his clenched fist rivals his head in size and intensity). Moving from the powerlessness of the Jim Crow years to how today, “the flag protects each American all,” this is a deeply honest and moving chronology. Ages 9–up. (Nov.)
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up—The events and people of the Civil Rights era, from the famous to the ordinary, are brought to life through stirring poetry and striking illustrations. In its opening pages, blue skies, warm sunlight, and lush greenery gives way to the unspeakable reality of Jim Crow in the form of a faceless body that tarnishes the tranquil scene. The simple day-to-day drudgery of scrubbing floors and washing laundry is eloquently described in "Cleaning Gal." A palpable sense of foreboding and terror is apparent as the perils of trying to cast a ballot in the segregated South are detailed in "You Vote/You Die." Unflinching words and stark artwork portray the horror of lynching in "Roadkill" and "Crying Trees." Paintings depicting solemn-faced children, some in tattered clothes and others nicely dressed, give visual testimony to the strong desire to obtain an education in "Booker T. Washington School, 1941." Inspirational verses express the philosophies of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks, capturing the essence of these Civil Rights icons and why they were special to so many people. Historical events like the March on Washington are given a new voice as poetic language and panoramic views express emotion in a manner that standard factual treatment cannot. The triumph of the spirit and the determination and bravery of famous and everyday people are expressed on each page of this exceptional book. It should be in every collection.—Margaret Auguste, Franklin Middle School, Somerset, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
Obie Award-winning playwright Shange teams up with illustrator Brown in this roughly linear collection of art and poetry vignettes from the Civil Rights Movement. The first poem's title sets the chronology: "Booker T. Washington School, 1941." Thanks to the abstract nature of the artwork and the ambiguous word choices, the final poem, "Heah Y'all Come," accompanied by an illustration of the Washington Monument, could be about the famed March on Washington in 1963 or any of the gatherings since that time. The lives of everyday people are recounted alongside major figures of the day, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Although the art is rich and the poetry compelling, the lack of contextualization will make this challenging for younger readers. A case in point is the dedication page, which the author offers "to the Little Rock Nine with great appreciation"-yet instead of depicting the Nine, there is an illustration of a creek, and in the lower right-hand corner a dead body floats, face down. Worthwhile but best for older readers. (Picture book/poetry. 10-14)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
9.10(w) x 11.20(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Ntozake Shange is a celebrated poet and author of many novels and plays, including the Obie Award-winning play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf, which was made into a feature film. Ms. Shange is also the author of several children’s books, including the Coretta Scott King Award-winning book Ellington Was Not a Street, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.

Rod Brown is a fine artist and the illustrator of We Troubled the Waters by Ntozake Shange, and From Slave Ship to Freedom Road by Julius Lester, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. His artwork has been displayed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and on the Nickelodeon program Nick News with Linda Ellerbee, among other places. A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Rod lives with his wife in a suburb of Washington, DC.

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