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HOW THEY GOT OVER by Eloise Greenfield


African Americans and the Call of the Sea

by Eloise Greenfield & illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist

Age Range: 8 - 11

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-06-028991-0
Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

A series of sketches, some sketchier than others, attempts to bring to a child audience a number of African-Americans who have had some relationship with the sea. Figures from history—Paul Cuffe, James Forten, Matthew Henson—share space with more contemporary and less well-known figures—deep-sea diver Shirley Lee, NOAA administrator Rear Admiral Evelyn J. Fields, Naval Commander Michelle Janine Howard. These “Profiles” are followed by a series of “Snapshots”—brief page-and-a-half entries on such individuals as Langston Hughes and Alex Haley which emphasize their sea-going sides—and then a brief “Montage” of paragraph-long blurbs on other African-American involvements with the sea. The organizational concept is novel, but that’s where the novelty ends. The relative unevenness of coverage gives the whole a somewhat scattershot effect and mostly tantalizes rather than informs with the briefer entries. There is very little indication in this offering that Greenfield (Honey, I Love, above, etc.) is a poet: short, choppy sentences rarely attain a level of beauty higher than bland. As nonfiction, it reads like a very old-fashioned example of the art. Despite allusions in the text to diaries and letters, primary-source material makes no appearance; neither, with one exception, are there quotes from any of the living figures profiled. Combined with the generally undistinguished language, this makes for an essentially passive text. Frequent collaborator Gilchrist (as above) provides black-and-white portraits of the individuals represented at the beginning of each chapter. A bibliography and index (not seen) round out this uninspiring biographical collection. (Biography. 8-11)