February is National African American History Month, and fittingly, Kadir Nelson's Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans, recently won the American Library Association's 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Award. Nelson has provided an overarching introduction to the difficult history of African Americans, told in the voice of an elderly female whose grandfather was born in Africa and was kidnapped and taken to America as a slave at age six.
The narrator takes us from the American Revolution, through the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Great Migration, Jim Crow laws, the fight for civil rights, and all the way up through the election of Barack Obama. Nelson ably intertwines important events in the United States with portraits of notable African Americans, as well as with the experiences of all African Americans. Stunning paintings by Nelson illustrate the book, and both words and pictures give powerful voice to the hardships and pain born by African Americans in this country, as well as to their striving for a better, more just, future. Highly recommended for grades 4 and up.