One of the glorious benefits of homeschooling is the freedom to set ones own academic course. This year, my sons (grades 5 and 7) and I are studying American history through the lens of the African American experience.
While I am not African American myself, I grew up in the deep South where I heard and saw enough to understand that thick threads of racism and racial injustice have been woven deeply into the fabric of our country’s history.
I want my children to know this side of history. I want them to grow into adults who recognize and fight against the injustices in their own generation.
In pulling together books for our study, I stumbled across Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson at my local library. This book is a true gem! Nelson combines his gorgeous artwork with a compelling first-person narrative (based on his own family’s history) of the African American experience from slavery through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (and all the way up to present day in the epilogue).
His narrator, an elderly female, tells her family’s tale with great dignity and personality. Her tone is generally factual, not bitter or sensationalizing, but she doesn’t shy away from hard topics and observations.
As a hybrid chapter/picture book, I believe Heart and Soul is appropriate for children ages 8 and above. While my own boys and I are delving into a number of darker, more detailed accounts of slavery and its aftermath (such as Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass), I appreciate the breadth of Nelson’s book. In two days’ reading, my sons were able to get an idea of the entire arc of African American history and an introduction to some important terms. Both boys found the book engaging and informative.
I recommend including Nelson’s book in any homeschool course on American history for older elementary and middle school students or as supplemental reading in non-homeschool households.