Faith Ringgold has written and illustrated many important books. Some have won the Coretta Scott King award for illustration and one was named a Caldecott Honor book. They tackle a variety of important historical and cultural themes. Hers is a powerful and courageous voice.
Her website reports that she has won “more than 75 awards including 22 Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degrees.
Her stunning work is unique and distinctive, full of brilliant color. Many contain quilt-like motifs which underscore the sense of diverse fragments coming together to create something of beauty and value that exceeds the individual elements.
Several of Faith Ringgold’s books explore important themes and events from African-American history. They contribute a vital window into these events and are important to all readers.
I first read Tar Beach, with my own children decades ago. Captivated by the art, they enjoyed the story and absorbed an appreciation for the world which it depicted and was so unlike their own. The inspired text invites children to dream and to fly into the world of dreams where anything is possible. It also shows that wealth derives not only in terms of money or things.
Adoption-attuned Lens This story offers a chance to discuss what a family values as important and valuable. Although not wealthy in terms of material goods, the Cassie and Be Be have the most important asset: a family who loves them. This can be used to jumpstart an age-appropriate conversation about why an adoption plan was made for a child.
Dinner at Aunt Connie’s House, shows an annual family gathering where Aunt Connie reveals her most recent paintings. While exploring their aunt’s large home, two children happen upon the trove of paintings. Each depicts a famous African-American figure. The children discover that the paintings can speak to them. Each painting reveals a personal story of courage and historic barrier breaking.
As a secondary theme, readers learn that Aunt Connie’s red-haired, green-eyed son was adopted. Connie challenges his “right” to feel pride in these African-American figures. This can easily lead to conversations that remind us that all Americans should be proud of the achievements of the people in the paintings. Fundamentally, regardless of their specific ethnicity or race, the history of each and every American contributes a “patch” to the “quilt” that is America’s story. This book can also open conversations about race and racism.
Adoption-attuned Lens Since this story focuses on Aunt Connie’s art it offers a chance to discuss family talents. Some may trend through generations and be prized. This can put pressure on adopted children to “take on” this talent in preference to following their own natural abilities. Families can affirm that every family member’s unique talents are valuable.
In Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky, Cassie (a child featured in several of Faith Ringgold’s books,) travels the Underground Railroad and experiences the trials, terrors and privations of that long, dangerous route to freedom. In another repeating theme of Ringgold’s books, Cassie’s brother Be Be travels a mythical reincarnation of the Underground Railroad Freedom Train.
Separated from each other, each child chooses the quest for freedom over security and remaining enslaved. The children eventually reunite. Each now possesses a realization that “Freedom is more important than just staying together.”
Adoption-attuned Lens Since this story touches on some difficult parts of American history it lends itself to discussions about the events and politics of all countries. Thus, it can open a conversation about the conditions in an international adoptee’s birth land some of which may have influenced why a child was adopted.
One of Ringgold’s skills is her ability to place the reader in the heart of the historical experience. In If a Bus Could Talk,
Faith Ringgold places young Marcie on a metaphorical bus with Rosa Parks and other historical figures. Each shares their stories in a way that feels present and real. Readers will learn about some of the uglier parts of history: discrimination, slavery, segregation, the role of the Ku Klux Klan, etc.
Ringgold achieves this in a way that feels authentic, touches the reader and is still appropriate for children. This is important American history which we must not sanitize or sweep under the rug. Children need this information so they can learn the lessons of history. In the absence of this education, we will be doomed to repeat the mistakes and cruelties of the past.
Adoption-attuned Lens Standing up for one’s values is not easy but this book reminds us of the important of doing so. It can have particular adoption-related resonance because adoptees must learn how to handle the inevitable onslaught of curious as well as nosy, intrusive and insulting questions regarding their adoptions.
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