By Judi Marcin
Since February is National African American History Month, we are focusing our choices this month on works that celebrate this theme.
Some folks requested a guide for our book discussions, so team MFAC Pride came up with the following questions to explore. We hope this format will make things easier for the writers, as well as encouraging more of you to participate in our weekly blogs. By having a monthly theme for topics along with a guided discussion, we look to improve our collective exposure and engagement with books highlighting marginalized writers and story- lines.
1) Why did you pick this particular book?
2) What kept you reading?
3) What new awareness/insight do you have about diversity/social justice after
reading this book?
4) What element of craft stood out to you?
5) To whom would you recommend this book?
I chose the picture book This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by
Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome, published in 2013. Woodson dedicated this book to, “the more than 6 million African Americans who left the unjust conditions of the South for a better life in the North…”
So often we see the history of marginalized groups narrowed down to specific events, as if those few points in history define an entire group’s experience in our
country. This is another example of the danger of a single story, the rehashing or repetition of certain historical themes. This is the Rope highlights a time in American history when African Americans reached out into the unknown to take control of their
own destiny, despite racism, oppression, intimidation and discrimination. As Woodson
writes in her dedication, “I thank you all for your courage and for making a way out of no way.” A story of grit and determination, of doing what one can to realize hopes and
dreams, will always pull me in.
What kept me reading was the use of the rope as a character within the larger narrative about this family’s journey.
As a writer, I am interested in this brilliant use of an endowed object. As a reader, I want to follow this family from South Carolina to New York City and watch their new life unfold. I am introduced to new characters along the way as the family grows and their community expands. From the opening page, I know the story is being told from the point of view of a grand daughter, so I am invested in her
journey as well.
I see this work as an example of how we define home and community. It is also about the importance of having dreams and seeing those dreams realized. When historically African Americans were given so little freedom to travel safely throughout their own country, it is humbling for me to think about the incredible courage those individuals must have had to leave everything familiar and venture into the unknown, in order to forge a better life for themselves and their family.
Although Woodson uses language beautifully, the craft element I appreciated most in this work was Woodson’s ability to take an endowed object and make it a character. The author uses the repetition of the concept, “This is the rope…” and shows it used by many within the family. We watch the life of the rope and the life of this family change over time. Ultimately, Woodson takes us full circle. The story starts with her grandmother skipping rope, “…back home in South Carolina,” and it ends with her grandmother holding onto the rope, “from back home...”
This book works on so many levels. Young readers will appreciate the narrator and the story of her rope. They will also identify with the uncertainty of change and the
importance of family and friends and finding ways to connect with others. Older readers will appreciate the larger concepts of what is means to have a home and how we define
our dreams. This is the Rope is an important work, both as a beautiful narrative and as a glimpse into a highly personal and significant historical experience.