The 1619 Project: Born on the Water
written by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson
illustrated by Nikkolas Smith
This is a children’s picture book that was part of The 1619 Project and it is beautifully written, gorgeously illustrated, and addresses a difficult but vitally important topic in an age-appropriate manner.
The framing story starts with a young child being given a class assignment to write out their family tree. However, while their white peers are able to go back many generations and list which countries their families came from, this black student can only list three generations and feels ashamed. The main focus of the book is the history of that student’s family that starts with joy and culture and rich history in Africa, goes through great suffering and hardship with kidnapping and enslavement in America, but still perseveres, fights, and survives to live on in the student today. It gives a message that survival in the face of trauma is to be celebrated. Black Americans have a great deal to be proud of in their African roots and their American survival and their achievements – past, present, and future.
I’m particularly impressed with the way this book shows centuries of American slavery as the middle part of the history of the student’s ancestors. Slavery was long and harsh and transformational, but it was not the start of their history and it was not the end of it.
This is clearly intended for a young audience, but I highly recommend it for adults as well, not just for the pure artistry of the writing and illustrations, but also for the soft discussion of a difficult topic.