Reviews for Freedom in Congo Square

by Carole Boston

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* Coretta Scott King Honorees Weatherford and Christie have created a gorgeously artistic and poetic homage to the birthplace of jazz and a people whose legacy is too often ignored. For one day a week, the slaves of New Orleans were allowed by law to gather on one public space: Congo Square. Through sparse, deliberate language, Weatherford tangibly captures the anticipation of those Sundays, listing the physical and emotional work that slaves endured without respite. They tend to animals and crops, cater to their masters, endure losses and lashings, all the while counting the hours until they can revel in the freedom of Congo Square. Holding on to that joyful experience feels like a form of silent resistance as the slaves bear the harshness of the week. The blunt words are richly supplemented by illustrations reminiscent of Jacob Lawrence's work. Christie elegantly renders people's gestures in chalk, capturing their energy or lack of, depending on the context. Blocks of color stamped with texture bring to life the landscape and movement in a place where they rejoiced as if they had no cares; / half day, half free in Congo Square. Subtle and layered, this is an important story, beautifully told.--Chaudhri, Amina Copyright 2015 Booklist


Horn Book
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In Louisiana, enslaved Africans were provided a half-day of rest each Sunday; in New Orleans, they gathered in Congo Square. Spare couplets, describing the labors and horrors of slavery, count down to Sunday. Weatherford sugarcoats nothing, but the text isn't mired in sadness or pain. Christie's illustrations, which recall Jacob Lawrence's work, add even more emotional depth. A foreword provides historical context. (c) Copyright 2016. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


School Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Gr 1-3-This vibrant picture book examines Congo Square in New Orleans. A foreword and author's note explain how, historically, slaves in Louisiana were allowed Sunday afternoons off. This custom continued after the territory joined the United States, although in time, New Orleans established one location for all slaves to gather: an area that became known as Congo Square. This unique practice helped enslaved and free Africans maintain cultural traditions. The impact was felt far beyond New Orleans as musicians, dancers, and singers developed, explored, and shared rhythms that eventually grew into jazz music. The text is realistic but child appropriate. Couplets count down the days to Sunday in a conversational tone ("Slavery was no ways fair./Six more days to Congo Square."). The writing is accompanied by folk art-style illustrations, with paint applied in thick layers. Some images, such as faces, are more detailed, while others are presented as silhouettes. Collage with painted elements is incorporated on occasion. The architecture portrayed evokes the New Orleans setting. Bright colors suggest the exuberance displayed at Congo Square. Spreads where the slaves are finally able to sing, dance, and express emotion contrast effectively with the forced restraint of those depicting the work week. VERDICT Unique in its subject and artistic expression, this beautiful book belongs in most collections.-Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


School Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Gr 1-3-Couplets count down the days of the week and detail the daily labor duties of those who were enslaved in New Orleans-all leading up to Sunday, the day of rest and an afternoon in Congo Square. Acknowledging and contrasting the brutal toll of slavery with the exuberance and collective power of their one half-afternoon of free expression, Weatherford has created a masterly and multifaceted work. Christie's illustrations, so loaded with color and movement, are the perfect accompaniment to this must-have book. Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


School Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Gr 1-5-This Coretta Scott King and Caldecott Honor Book by Carole Boston Weatherford, with illustrations by R. Gregory Christie, really takes flight in the lively DVD version. Slaves from Africa and the West Indies toiled all week picking cotton, scrubbing clothes, and doing back-breaking labor for their owners with one thought in mind: "Slavery was no ways fair. Six more days to Congo Square." For, only on Sunday afternoons were they allowed to congregate and sell their homemade wares in New Orleans' Congo Square, where they were free to speak or sing in their native languages, dance, clap, and play indigenous instruments. The liberating atmosphere of joyful expression lifted their spirits and gave them hope as a community. Christie's childlike, abstract cut-paper bodies seem to leap off the screen, arms waving and tambourines shaking to the rhythmic drums, and the hypnotic music varies with each scene. As the countdown to Congo Square progresses, one senses the taste of freedom in the vocals and the intermingling of musical styles, which helped create the original American art form of jazz. J.D. Jackson's rich narration in verse weaves history, culture, music, and dance together into a vibrant cloth. The fascinating foreword and author's note provide historical context, and the subtitles make them accessible to students. VERDICT Transcendent and inspiring, the program communicates an important facet of African American culture with panache and is a perfect pairing with the award-winning book. Ideal for school and public library settings.-Lonna Pierce, MacArthur and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School -Libraries, Binghamton, NY Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Located in what is now the Treme neighborhood, Congo Square was the one place where the slaves and free blacks of New Orleans were allowed to gather on Sundays, a legally mandated day of rest. There they could reconnect with the dance and music of their West and Central African heritages and feel, at least for a few hours, that they were in "a world apart," where "freedom's heart" prevailed. Weatherford hits a few flat notes with her rhyming ("Slaves had off one afternoon,/ when the law allowed them to commune"), but she succeeds in evoking a world where prospect of Sunday becomes a way to withstand relentless toil and oppression: "Wednesday, there were beds to make/ silver to shine, and bread to bake./ The dreaded lash, too much to bear./ Four more days to Congo Square." Christie, who worked with Weatherford to illuminate another historic neighborhood in Sugar Hill (2014), takes readers on a visual journey, moving from searing naf scenes of plantation life to exuberantly expressionistic and abstract images filled with joyous, soaring curvilinear figures. An introduction and afterword provide further historic detail. Ages 4-8. (Jan.) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.