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JOHN BROWN by Gwen Everett

JOHN BROWN

One Man Against Slavery

By Gwen Everett (Author) , Jacob Lawrence (Illustrator)

Age Range: 8 & up

Pub Date: May 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-8478-1702-4
Publisher: Rizzoli

 It takes searching through three notes--by the chief historian at Harper's Ferry, a curator at the Detroit Institute of Arts (which owns the art), and the editor--plus what seem to be the 1941 paintings' original titles (listed in the back; year given only in jacket copy) to piece together the bases of this powerful presentation. Lawrence, a fine artist, is best known in children's books for his illustrations for Harriet and the Promised Land (1968). The 16 gouaches here (from a series of 22 on Brown) are captivating--stark compositions with flat areas of earth tones and weighty black, featuring the fanatical abolitionist, the slaves he planned to free, and a dramatic, dour landscape. But Everett's text is somewhat problematic. In her fine Li'l Sis and Uncle Willie (1992), a child who knew the artist narrates; here, Brown's daughter Annie--admiring yet clear-eyed--shares reservations about his violent tactics (``Father could choose to use the pen to fight slavery''). Everett sets herself a difficult task: a narrator who fully subscribed to Brown's fiercely quixotic plans could not perceive their danger so clearly. The Annie that Everett depicts (she cites no sources for her characterization) doesn't quite convey the extraordinary passion of the man who believed that ``the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with Blood'': Lawrence's splendid art, here published in color for the first time, speaks with far more power. Still, the inexorable events described in her quiet narrative are compelling, firmly supporting her theme: ``One man against slavery did make a difference.'' (Nonfiction. 8+)