My Seneca Village by Marilyn Nelson

Published by Namelos 

Summary:  From 1825 to 1857, Seneca Village in Manhattan was populated by newly-freed African American slaves and immigrants from Ireland and Germany.  The people were poor and life was hard, but there was also celebration, hard work, and hope for the future.  This collection of poems tells the story of those years through the people who lived there.  Each facing page introduces the poem and creates a picture of the person at the moment it is spoken.  Characters are referenced in others’ poems, or come back with their own several years later.  The second to last poem, “The Law of Eminent Domain” quotes the law that ordered the eviction of Seneca Village residents so their land could be used to create Central Park.  The author’s introduction gives the history of Seneca Village; she uses the last few pages to describe the different poetic forms in the book.  87 pages; grades 5 and up.

Pros:  These moving, beautifully crafted poems introduce a little-known chapter in American history.  Footnotes give additional historical context.  The final lines of the last poem bring the inhabitants of Seneca Village into the present:  “I am one who knows that time and we are mist/hiding Light’s ever-changing panorama,/where the future holds a President Obama.”

Cons:  The drab colors of the cover could make this less appealing for young readers to pick up and try.

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