An American Story by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Dare Coulter

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary:  “How do you tell a story that starts in Africa and ends in horror?”  Kwame Alexander was moved to write this poem after he realized his daughter’s fourth-grade teacher wasn’t teaching students about slavery, because she was anxious and hadn’t been trained in how to teach that piece of the American story.  With distinctive illustrations that combine sculptures and paintings, the book portrays life in Africa, people being captured, the Middle Passage, and the horrors of slavery once they arrived in America.  The narrative is interspersed with pictures of a class learning from a teacher who is somewhat hesitant to teach the story, but who is encouraged by her students to tell them the truth.  How do you tell the story? “You do it/by being brave enough/to lift your voice,/by holding/history/in one hand/and clenching/hope/in the other.”  56 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  I have been sharing Kwame Alexander’s The Undefeated with fourth and fifth graders this week, and I think this book is even more powerful.  I know I can feel uncomfortable talking to elementary students about racism and slavery, but they are ready to hear about it, and this is an important book for making sure that happens.  The illustrations are equally powerful and mark my first Caldecott prediction for 2024.

Cons:  I saw recommendations in several places for ages 4-8, but I think it’s more appropriate for older elementary kids.

One thought on “An American Story by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Dare Coulter

  1. Just read this book yesterday and agree that it’s more appropriate for ages 8 and up. It’s vitally important that African American history, including slavery, be a part of every elementary, middle, and high school students’ education. Start with this book and require an AP course to graduate from high school. Florida governor DeSantis be damned!


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