When The New York Times Magazine first published The 1619 Project, parents began asking Nikole Hannah-Jones—the journalist who conceived of the media project— if she would make it a resource to share with their children. You wouldn’t know it from listening to conservatives at PTA meetings, but there is a world of people who want to teach the children in their lives the legacy of slavery and the impact of race. Fortunately for those readers, The 1619 Project is debuting its new picture book, Born on the Water, this fall.
ESSENCE is providing a glimpse of the stunning work, co-authored by Hannah-Jones and Newbery honor-winning writer Renée Watson. It opens with a young Black girl and her family absorbing her grandmother’s lessons. “They say our people were born on the water,” the elder begins, echoing the words of Hannah-Jones’ Pulitzer Prize-winning essay for The 1619 Project. “[B]ut our people had a home, a place, a land before they were sold.”
Born on the Water isn’t just a reframing of American history; it reframes how children, especially Black children, are taught their own history. “Before they were enslaved, they were free,” the elder narrator continues.
The book then transports its readers through time, with the rich and lively illustrations of artist Nikkolas Smith helping to guide the journey. We meet laughing children in the Kingdom of Ndongo. We witness the joy of a people who dance both to mourn and to worship. We learn of the subjects they mastered, languages they spoke, and currency with which they traded in Central West Africa before their arrival on U.S. shores in 1619, when they were traded as property themselves and became chattel.
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SOURCE: ESSENCE, Malaika Jabali