I received this book for free from Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.We Could Fly by Rhiannon Giddens
Illustrator: Briana Mukodiri Uchendu
Published by Candlewick Press on November 7, 2023
Genres: Juvenile Fiction / Historical / United States / General, Juvenile Fiction / People & Places / United States / African American & Black, Juvenile Fiction / Social Themes / Prejudice & Racism
Source: Candlewick Press
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Also by this author: Build a House
A Coretta Scott King–John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award Winner
"This magical picture book will have readers entranced. Sublime."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
In a companion to Build a House, Rhiannon Giddens—winner of multiple Grammy Awards and a Pulitzer Prize and cofounder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops—gives wing to a moving tale of grace and transcendence, with acclaimed artist Briana Mukodiri Uchendu.
At a sparrow’s urging, a young girl feels a mysterious trembling in her arms, a lightness in her feet, a longing to be free. Her mother tells her that her Granny Liza experienced the same, as did many of their people before her. Perhaps it’s time, Mama says, to slip the bonds of earth and join the journey started long ago. To hold each other tight and rise. Drawing on lyrics from the song “We Could Fly” by Rhiannon Giddens and Dirk Powell, which in turn draw on a heritage of African folklore, this incantatory dialogue between a mother and daughter paired with startlingly beautiful illustrations celebrates love, resilience, and the spiritual power of the “old-time ways”—tradition and shared cultural memory—to sustain and uplift.
We Could Fly by Rhiannon Giddens is a companion to her last book Build a House. We Could Fly is a lyrical conversation between a mother and daughter. Their dialogue is musical like a Negro spiritual and has an ancestral connection. We Could Fly also speaks to the ongoing search for freedom that African-Americans experience to this day.
There is a theme of connection to ones ancestry and ancestral memory that runs through the book. The mentioning of the grandmother throughout the book and her connection to “the old-time ways” is significant to her daughter’s curiosity in the conversation. African folklore is the basis of the story as it references the story “The People Could Fly” (see below.)
“The People Could Fly” Context
I would recommend reading the story “The People Could Fly” in the book of the same name by the great Virginia Hamilton to give you some additional context. The People Could Fly is one of my favorite African-American folktales and has been since I was a child. It tells the story of those who were enslaved, but eventually escaped slavery by remembering the magic of the ancestors gifted them by flying away to freedom.
I love the color palette incorporated into the illustrations through most of the book. It reminds me of sunrises and sunsets. Sky imagery dominates the pages which makes sense since the story is about flying figuratively and literally.