The narrator of this wonderful book is an unnamed black woman whose grandfather was a slave as a child. It’s the personal storytelling that makes it unique as a history book. Yet, it is indeed a historically accurate account of “America and African Americans” as the subtitle suggests. The author does an amazing job of weaving the story of African American history with American history. This may be what I most love about this book. While historians seem to tell parallel and quite separate stories of American history, Nelson shows how it’s actually only one story. Blacks were here well before the American Revolution; although many historical books for children seem to have slaves appear for a brief moment just in time to be one of the causes of the Civil War. Then they disappear until the Harlem Renaissance or the Civil Rights Movement, which are typically in social studies curriculums.
The illustrations in Heart and Soul are stunning. Nelson usually works as an illustrator, this time also lending his voice to the story. The detailed and rich illustrations would make the book worth the price alone. These are pictures that could be framed and hung in a museum.
How can this book be used in classrooms? Although the pictures are large and beautiful, it is probably too wordy, the subject matter too complex, for most younger elementary students. It would make an excellent read aloud for fourth through sixth graders; and would supplement their history lessons. It’s 99 pages of narration and a two-page timeline. It’s not a book to read in a day; but the chapters are short and conducive to group reading. Art teachers could certainly use this to model various aspects of painting.
Heart and Soul would make an excellent addition to any classroom or school library for independent reading. In fact, I would put it on the “must have” list.