When We Say Black Lives Matter, written and illustrated by Maxine Beneba Clarke
Updated: Jan 10, 2021
This is a beautifully written and illustrated picture book which shines a light on the Black Lives Matter movement. Our children most likely have some sort of awareness of the global civil rights movement, but it can be challenging for parents attempting to answer questions about why injustices are occurring. I remember trying to find a way to talk through issues of racism and civil rights with Mr 8 when he saw footage of George Floyd on the news (who died when a policeman knelt on his neck). It was truly difficult at times to find the right words. How best to explain to our children in a way that they can understand? There is definitely a lack of books dealing with more weighty issues for a young age group – but our young people are curious and want answers. They want to learn.
‘When We Say Black Lives Matter’, then, very effectively fills such a gap. This book gently explains and guides young readers through the reasons why we say 'black lives matter.' Reading this book with our children creates a quiet space to initiate conversation about respect, inclusivity, kindness and not being afraid to stand up for what you believe in.
The narrative reads like poetry, making this book a joy too read aloud, as it guides us through a journey of shifting emotions. There is a rhythmic flow to the story, which has a lilting rising and falling – much like listening to a song, or perhaps a lullaby, which gently rocks us with its compassion. This is, after all, a story told by parents to a young child.
It is hard to read this book and not feel a surging of emotion, like a wave crashing through you: there is a churning sorrow and anger as we reflect on the injustices that have been – and continue to be – committed, along with a determination to make a difference, to educate our children and open up important conversation about the Black Lives Matter movement. I love the sense of radiant joy that manages to shine through the narrative, via the thundering of the drums, the connection to ancestors and the hope that we can find a way to move forward together in unity.
The illustrations are also by Maxine Beneba Clarke – with the front cover alone inducing a tactile response. The beautifully rendered watercolour illustrations throughout are exquisite; emanating sorrow, joy and hope. The bright bold colours provide a splash of hope and joy alongside the more serious message that is being conveyed. Even the text font itself manages to convey emotion through the use of colour, font style and placement. The word 'dancing,’ for example, is highlighted in a joyful yellow font that curves like the letters themselves are dancing. Meanwhile, the word ‘stalks’ jumps out at us in ominous black letters.
Mr 3 has enjoyed poring over the gloriously coloured endpapers, which have a stained glass window effect, and presents protestors with placards – which provides an excellent starting point to discuss with young readers the concept of activism and standing up for what you believe in.
Despite the tones of sadness in the subject matter, there is a luminosity about this book, which is ultimately an empowering celebration of the Black Lives Matter movement. The last page is uplifting and fills us with hope.
It’s so important that our children have access to books which reflect diversity, and highlight the value of inclusion, kindness, and understanding. It is only by coming to an understanding of the wrongs that have been committed that our future generations can move forward with compassion and understanding.
A portion of the proceeds from Maxine Beneba Clarke's book will be donated to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.
Published by Lothian Children's Books