A successful reclamation project—or one that adds to an already-problematic literary history?
Flowers identifies Joel Chandler Harris’ Brer Rabbit stories—tales collected from slaves on a Georgia plantation—as his source material. Harris sought to justify slavery as beneficial to both masters and (contented) slaves, making the stories “narrative minstrelsy.” Flowers writes that as Harris took the slaves’ stories “for his purposes, I’m taking them back for mine.” Throughout this anthology of cultural, visual, and linguistic juxtapositions, readers must wonder what, exactly, is Flowers’ purpose and intended audience for this book? In the 21 tales—some familiar, some less so—the language echoes Black English Vernacular, though inconsistently, while the art, which Indian artist Chitara created in red, black, and white, seems to belong in some other story. Given the histories of colonialism in India and slavery in America, merging these two cultures could create some productive synergy. But due to linguistic inconsistencies and because many of the musical elements—sung or chanted by Flowers on the accompanying CD—translate poorly into text, this mashup results in more confusion than cross-cultural understanding. Though beautiful, Chitara’s art features animals in static poses, some of which are so stylized that young readers may have difficulty using them to make sense of the stories.
A lavishly illustrated art book with a self-indulgent purpose that may appeal to adults but misses the mark for children’s literature. (Picture book/folk tales. 5-10, adult)