February 19, 2015

Cybils Finalist Review: STRANGE FRUIT, VOLUME I by Joel Christian Gill

Summary: In a recent NPR interview, Joel Christian Gill said, "These stories are quintessentially American stories. I can't say that enough. It's not that I dislike Black History Month. I just don't think Black History Month is enough." I agree completely--most especially with the fact that these ARE quintessentially American tales, and interesting ones, to boot. Yes, these are stories of "Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History," but aside from that, they're just plain absorbing: true stories about nine individuals from black history who made an impact each in their own way--and in some surprising ways, too: for instance, the first American stage magician was an African American, as was Bass Reeves, the most successful Wild West lawman in history.

Peaks: I was drawn in so quickly to these intriguing, fascinating, action-packed, little-known stories from history. Each of the characters was inspiring and brought to life with a lot of personality and humor--with just a touch of the old-style American tall tale to them, though the subject matter is factual--and the stories were all very different and interesting.

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Overall, in fact, this one really does a nice job of combining education and entertainment. The book ends with a Did You Know section containing added facts about each of the nine individual stories, which was a nice touch. There is also ample bibliographic information for people who want to study the subject in depth. But purely on their own merits, the stories have a lot to offer readers, regardless of their level of interest in black history. It brings to life some lost voices from history that are interesting in their own right, independent of adding black history to the standard canon, which this book also encourages.

With respect to the graphic storytelling, I loved the fun and humor and expressiveness of the artwork. It was just very well done—simple but effective, and with great integration of text and image in a variety of ways. Humor is also used well, and I enjoyed the use of "placeholder" images inside word balloons to substitute for racial slurs like the N-word. (Gill addresses this in his NPR interview; I highly suggest checking it out.)

Valleys: Something I couldn't help noticing--as much as I really loved this book--there are no stories in which women are the central figures. Given that this is Volume 1, I'm hoping Volume 2 rectifies this situation, because it seemed a rather glaring omission otherwise...

Conclusion: While the title of this one might prompt some to assume that it is more factual than fun, rest assured that it is most definitely both. I was quite inspired and moved by these tales of heroism and accomplishment, both ordinary and extraordinary, in arenas as varied as the stage, the Old West, the cycling arena and the basketball court. Make sure you read that NPR interview if you want to learn more about the book and its author.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. You can find Strange Fruit, Volume I: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History by Joel Christian Gill at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!


tanita✿davis said...

Oh, I was SO EXCITED about this book because I'd seen pictures connected w/ that interview on NPR. I LOVE how he's like, "THIS SUCKS!" because, really? It SUCKED. And there's no sense making people out to be all noble and above it all without that moment of "Aarrrrgh, I totally hate this!"

tanita✿davis said...
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Sarah Stevenson said...

It's great!! I loved this one. (Happy to lend it, if you don't feel like buying.) And the author is a professor of art, which I also like because there is traditionally this disconnect between "commercial" art and fine art, and he seems to have no trouble with either. :)