I Heard

An American Journey

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Pub Date 30 Apr 2024 | Archive Date 16 Apr 2024

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A powerful and poetic picture book about Black history in the United States, from the shores of Africa and slavery, to the civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements.

With stunning lyricism reminiscent of traditional African spirituals and today's rhythm and flow of hip-hop, a teacher shares the history of being Black in the US, while continuing to march into present day--undeterred and proud to be Black. Author Jaha Nailah Avery shows you have to understand the past to shape the future, and knowing who you are gives you the strength to do just that.

The book's back matter on Black history is an extensive resource and provides additional context to the reading of I Heard.
A powerful and poetic picture book about Black history in the United States, from the shores of Africa and slavery, to the civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements.

With stunning lyricism...

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EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9781623543822
PRICE $17.99 (USD)

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Average rating from 13 members

Featured Reviews

I Heard is an emotional educational journey through recent Black history in the United States, from the shores of Africa and slavery to the civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements. The book covers a lot of hard topics in a respectful way that is age appropriate for young readers.

The prose is beautifully written, the rhymes are engaging. The illustrations are phenomenal. This book should be in classrooms and libraries across the country. Stunning book!

Thanks Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to review this advanced review copy (ARC) in exchange for my honest review on the book!

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Thank you to NetGalley, and the author and publisher of this book for a free ARC in exchange for an unbiased review. I Heard, written by J. Nailah Avery is written as a story being told, of what an artist heard about, and is portraying in her work. They all relate to African American history, as well as what is currently happening in our country and world. I believe that this could be a very helpful book for teaching young children about the past, and what we can do in the future to make things better. I also loved the artwork portrayed, and the glossary at the end of the book where different terms and individuals are reintroduced and defines. Thank You for reading!

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This book discusses slavery, Emancipation Proclamation, reconstruction, riots, Obama, Black Lives Matter. There are 2 main messages in it: Remember all the people before you that paved the way. Be proud to be Black. I think this is an excellent book for young readers.

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This is a great little book with beautiful illustrations that simply demonstrates important aspects of black history. It offers the opportunity for further discussion while being sufficient and complete on its own as it is. This book would be great for younger readers who have the guidance of their parent or guardian as well as older readers who can engage in further discussion that interrogates history, racism, social injustice, and how artwork can contribute and support this.

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I Heard is a great book for kids or adults. The writing style was engaging and the illustrations were beautiful. I appreciate the glossary in the back to give the readers more information about the key topics stated in the story.

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This nonfiction picture book features a stirring poem and beautiful illustrations that celebrate African American history and persistence. The poem gives a surprisingly thorough introduction to major points in Black history, and encourages Black children to take pride in their identity and heritage. There is also a detailed author's note at the end that explains more about the historic events, people, and terminology referenced in the poem.

I was impressed with most things about this book, but I have a few major critiques that I need to unpack in detail. The first is that just like in Kwame Alexander's recent book "An American Story," this book does not acknowledge the role that many Africans willingly played in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, selling other Black people into slavery. Although the opening stanzas in this book are beautiful, with the author dreaming of seeing Africa again and reflecting on the wonders of the continent and its people, this stanza is a historically inaccurate evasion: "I heard the people, Black and free / Community abounds / Thus living all in harmony / With sky, with sea, with ground."

Slavery has been the global norm throughout human history. Prior to the arrival of white Europeans, Black people were not all free. Also, they were not all living in harmony. There was tribal warfare, just as there has been warfare among different groups on every other continent, and victorious tribes would often take their enemies captive and enslave them. The trans-Atlantic market for slaves changed everything, creating a system of race-based slavery and introducing major financial impetus for putting people into bondage, but slavery already existed, just like it has existed everywhere else in the world.

I understand why the author wouldn't want to talk about African contributions to the slave trade. It isn't an inspiring or joyful thing to think about, and this is a sensitive topic that has often be unfairly weaponized against Black people in public discourse. However, if you want to teach accurate history, then it's part of the story. You can sugarcoat this and say that everybody in Africa was free and living in harmony, but that's not true. That's not reality, and ignoring inconvenient facts with children just makes the truth more upsetting and destabilizing later.

My other criticism has to do with the politically charged specifics towards the end of the book. Although the author introduces Barack Obama and Ketanji Brown Jackson as inspiring role models and trailblazers without focusing on their politics, she celebrates how Stacey Abrams "helped turn Georgia blue," introducing an explicitly partisan message. Even though the book's framing device shows a teacher sharing Black history with a room full of students, the political statements make the book less appropriate for classroom use in public schools.

I know that books and schools are a touchy subject right now, so it's difficult to offer this critique, but it's still true, and it's true regardless of the political party affiliation. If a teacher read a book that celebrated Candace Owens as a beacon of modern conservatism, that would also be inappropriate for a classroom context. My argument here is about the partisan nature of the statement.

In addition to this, on the page that addresses the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd, the author quotes the slogan "defund the police," and she does not define or explain this in the poem or in the note at the end. I thought this was unwise. This political statement is extremely divisive, even within the Black community, and is not a rallying cry that everybody wants to get behind.

Just because people are against police brutality does not mean that they think it is good or wise to defund the police. Of course, many proponents of the movement would argue that they don't want to abolish the police entirely, and just want more funding directed towards other social programs, but the ambiguity of this phrase is another reason why it's not appropriate to drop it into a picture book for elementary school students.

This is an extreme, politically charged phrase that people attach different meanings and interpretations to, anywhere on the spectrum from "we need better mental health care" to "we should abolish the police entirely." Dropping it into a children's book with no context will please adults with similar values, but makes the book unnecessarily controversial and inappropriate for classroom use.

Overall, I found this book both inspiring and frustrating. There are a lot of things I love about it, but it disappointed me that the author distorted the truth by making it sound like Africa was a place of perfect freedom and harmony prior to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the politically charged elements make this book far less generally appropriate than it would be otherwise. This book needs to be available in libraries for people to self-select, but the partisan statements make it inappropriate for classroom use, and Black parents who don't align with this book's political focus are better off choosing something else to help build their child's self-esteem and pride in their history.

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The story is very well written. It helps discuss difficult topics but in a child friendly way.
As someone who is from a coloniser country I felt really called to this book. I think it’s part of how we can help to make sure that discrimination and apartheid never happens. It’s still happening but if more people start learning about everyone’s history the world will be better for it.
The art style is beautiful and clear.
I’d definitely read this to my child if I had one.
I have nothing to add to make it better so it’s a 5 ⭐️

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WOW. The pictures were amazing, and every page was so busy. The illustrations used different kinds of color to make it obvious that there were multiple scenes playing out on every page.
There was so much information, adults and children could enjoy this. So much history was covered, and there were some amazing role models presented for children to aspire to, like our first black female Supreme Court Justice.
Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this

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This book has such gorgeous illustrations. Telling the story of slavery and how Africans were forced away from their homes, I Heard tells the powerful story of these people and their fight for equality. With a brief overview of the history, this book is so beautiful and so well put together and would be perfect for covering the fight towards racial equality,

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What an inspiring, stunning and educational book for younger audiences. Gorgeous illustrations and a wonderful way to introduce younger audience to a variety of topics related to Black history in the USA. Highly recommended

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Summary: From the shores of Africa to the rhythms of hip-hop, Avery crafts a lyrical book that traverses the timeline of Black history. This powerful picture book, akin to an African spiritual, elegantly guides readers through slavery, civil rights, and the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement. The narrative, spoken by a teacher, embodies the strength derived from understanding the past and embraces the pride of being Black.

🌟 A stellar 4.5 stars illuminate this impactful read! Avery seamlessly intertwines poetry and history, offering a compelling journey for readers of all ages.

😍 The illustrations dance in harmony with the narrative, providing a visual feast that enriches the storytelling. The vivid images enhance the emotional resonance, making the history more accessible and engaging.

🎓 The back matter's comprehensive exploration of Black history adds depth and context, transforming the book into a valuable resource for continued learning.

📘 While the book received high praise, a political tone was detected. I raised an eyebrow at phrases highlighting political figures "turning states blue" and controversial slogans such as "defund the police." Whether it's liberal or conservative, politics have no place in a classroom. It's like finding a political twist in the middle of a masterpiece—distinct and not everyone's cup of tea.

🌈 "I Heard" is a lyrical celebration of Black history, harmonizing powerful messages with captivating illustrations. Despite a few notes of political bias, the overall composition resonates profoundly. Avery's work stands tall as a testament to the importance of understanding the past to shape a brighter future. 📖🎶

Disclaimer: A resounding thank you to the NetGalley and Charlesbridge for providing this ARC. While opinions are like bookmarks—every reader has one—these reflections are solely mine, sprinkled with a dash of literary whimsy. 📚✨

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