Aunt Sue’s Stories

Creative Eds. Mar. 2024. 16p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781568464039.
Gr 2-4–Simple in words yet deep in context, this poem embodies the warmth and familiarity of snuggling in the bosom of a beloved family member to listen to stories of old. A brown-skinned child is rapt in his aunt’s stories of Black slaves working in the hot sun, walking in the dewy night, and singing sorrow songs near a mighty river. The child knows these stories are real, that his aunt lived these stories, and he is respectful as he listens in the quiet night. Hughes’s poetry strikingly articulates the stories as they “mingle themselves softly in the flow of old Aunt Sue’s voice.” This simple poem is juxtaposed with the strong visuals of Kelley’s bold and dark illustrations. Even in the soft embrace of his aunt, the boy can see she has lived a life of hard work and sacrifice. The “dark shadows that cross and recross” his aunt’s stories and the “sorrow songs” of the workers come though so tenderly despite the hard, black lines of the summer sun and the dust of an evening sky. The text would make a wonderful introduction to poetry for its brevity, but also for its inclination toward the visual. One can hear Aunt Sue’s flow of words, so reading this aloud would greatly enrich that connection. Kelley’s illustrations are a bold and striking depiction of the poem, but could also inspire discussion of how story and picture together deepen our understanding of history and, most importantly, culture.
VERDICT A stellar combination of words and illustrations sure to inform and inspire children across a wide range of ages. A must-read.

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