Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. little bee books, 2016. 40 pages.
This book came out early January and set the bar high for nonfiction picture books. While books about the slavery experience in the U.S. are nothing new, Freedom in Congo Square highlights a unique part of that history. A lengthy foreword by Congo Square historian Freddi Evans and a thorough author’s note at the end explain the historical and artistic significance of this public square in Louisiana for those who are unfamiliar with it. (The two notes are a bit repetitious, but both add extra details and are worth repeating.)
Congo Square was the place for freed African Americans and African American slaves to congregate on Sunday afternoons. Communication, music, dance, a marketplace and fellowship filled the square and drew plenty of people every Sunday afternoon.
Weatherford’s text is simply and rhythmic, in keeping with the musical importance of the square:
Tuesdays, there were cows to feed,/ fields to plow, and rows to seed./ A moment without work was rare./ Five more days to Congo Square.
Beginning with Monday and moving through the week, the text and illustrations look ahead to the coming Sunday. Christie’s illustrations are remarkable. Until Saturday night, the pictures are static, moments of hard work frozen in time. Nearly every character pictured is looking to the right, drawing the reader to keep turning the page just as the text looks ahead to the coming Sunday.
When Sunday comes, people and text burst forth in sudden movement. Characters dance, look every which way, and leap off the page. The spirit of Congo Square comes alive.
In addition to the aforementioned author’s note and foreword, end matter includes a glossary. This is a great title to have on hand for Louisiana state history, African American history, and jazz history. Recommended for K-3rd grade.