FICTION

Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History

illus. by Joel Christian Gill. Vol. 1.176p. Fulcrum. 2014. pap. $23.95. ISBN 9781938486296.
COPY ISBN
Gr 8 Up—This full-color graphic novel inspired by the Billie Holiday song, which in turn was derived from a poem by Abel Meeropol, showcases African American heroes not often featured in American history classes. These figures include Henry "Box" Brown, an escaped slave who made the Fugitive Slave Act a rallying cry; Harry "Bucky" Lew, our nation's first black ball player; Richard Potter, the first American stage magician; Theophilus Thompson, the first black chess master; Marshall "Major" Taylor, world champion bicycle racer; and Bass Reeves, a Deputy U.S. Marshall who lived with American Indians and fought for freedom with the Union Army. The short narratives are conversational in tone and the accompanying detailed images convey tragic beauty. Gil doesn't shy away from portraying brutal scenes, but does so without sensationalism. The panels vary in size and orientation, pushing the momentum of each vignette forward with great success. The shifts in cursive, bubble, or block text, also add dimension to each sketch. In addition to these individual stories, Gill includes the history of the Malaga Island community, an African American settlement in Casco Bay, Maine; and the Noyes Academy in Canaan, New Hampshire, where student Alexander Crummell fought Jim Crow laws. Gill's self-portrait "Strange Fruit Harvested: He Cut The Rope" illustrates the artist with a noose around his neck, holding a frayed rope, alluding to the fear that his ancestors experienced during slavery and Jim Crow-era lynching. He poignantly depicts Jim Crow as a menacing bird, peering around corners and over fences. This work includes an extensive bibliography and is recommended for large collections.—Lisa Gieskes, Richland County Public Library, Columbia, SC

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