In rhyming verse, Weatherford depicts the origin and longevity of the hymn “Amazing Grace.”
John Newton, a passenger aboard the slave ship Greyhound, is “brawling, swearing.” A storm rages; John fears for his life and “relives his past.” He learned hymns and Bible study from his mother as a young child, then left religion behind after his mother died when he was 7 and went to sea with his father. He became a “scoundrel, rascal, picking fights.” Aboard the Greyhound, John prays, “Lord, just let me see the dawn.” Finally they reach England, and grateful John “is reborn.” He captains a ship and marries, and when he retires, he “preaches to end slavery.” In this new life, he writes the well-known opening stanza of “Amazing Grace.” The “lyrics sail across the sea,” where they are adapted and sung by enslaved people in the Americas, Cherokees forced along the Trail of Tears, Civil War soldiers, Mahalia Jackson, and finally Barack Obama. The illustrations are dramatic oil paintings that successfully evoke gravity, sorrow, and religiosity. The lyrical text presents a mature story in spare verse, so younger readers may need to hear it several times, or have parts explained to them, in order for the meaning to sink in. Exposure to the story, however, needn’t wait.
An enriching picture of a hymn that has touched hearts over centuries and across the world. (author’s note, further reading, listening, and viewing) (Informational picture book. 5-10)