February 11

GO TELL IT! by Andrea Davis Pinkney

“Right here, I’m sharing the honest-to-goodness.”— Loretta

“I’m gon’ reach back. Tell how it all went. I’m gon’ speak on it. My way.” — Roly

Folks claim I got more nerve than a bad tooth. But there’s nothing bad about being bold! —Aggie B.

 

It’s time to pull up a chair. Sit on down. Kick back. And listen.

Welcome to my family’s front porch, where “go-tell-it” stories flow like gold dripping from a honeycomb. Uh-huh, that’s how my people roll. We talk. We “put it straight.” We do not shy-back from any “conversating” that brings light to our family’s legacy of activism, agriculture, and determination.

As a child, it was through this oral tradition that I first learned about being brave and walking through dark times with your head held high. Each of my novels is stitched with threads from family stories. The Red Pencil, Bird in a Box, and With the Might of Angels began with relatives sharing pieces of themselves. And while each of those books holds a special place in my heart, this, my newest novel, Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It, has opened me up in ways I never imagined. That’s because this is a story that spans generations. It speaks to the power of what it means to build a heritage that began before I was born, and will, I hope, be here for years to come.

Loretta Little Looks Back is inspired by my family’s life and times. Some sweet. Others bitter. All of them meaningful. The novel is more than just one story — it’s three tales, woven with the strands of the kinfolk who helped raise me.

My people hail from Virginia, but this book is set in Mississippi, where sharecropping, cotton, and Jim Crow once ruled. I’m pleased to introduce children whose characters are drawn from grandparents, great-aunts and uncles, and my mother and father.

Here, you’ll come face-to-face with Loretta Little, a griot with grit. You’ll make friends with Roly, a boy who’s got a magic touch in the garden. And finally, say hello to Aggie B., a girl with the might of twenty (even though she’s only twelve years old). The separate branches of their childhoods span decades, overlap, entwine, and grow, as only the strongest family trees can. With the help of an unexpected, mystical gift, their solo stories are ignited, and come together to present the dramatic events that led to African Americans earning the right to vote in 1964.

Loretta, Roly, and Aggie B. each invite you to join them as they share the “honest-to-goodness.”  I’ve crafted their experiences through spoken-word narratives, folk myths, gospel and blues rhythms to weave a tapestry that illuminates the dignity of sharecroppers in the rural South.

 

BLOOD, BONE, BREATH

The book can be read aloud, alone, or with friends.  Or, if it suits you, please enjoy these “go-tell-its” in the quiet spaces of your own solitude, as the Littles speak in the same ways my family members did on so many evenings, when the music of crickets harmonized the night, and fireflies lit their lives.

Loretta Little Looks Back is a work of fiction inspired by the collective voices of many. In addition to rendering the experiences of my family, these first-person narratives are crafted from interviews, oral histories, written accounts, broadcasts, and live performances. These provide the cadence for the inflections of the narratives to create an immersive page-to-stage experience that lets kids go beyond the book so they can truly feel what they’re reading.

The novel’s oration brings blood, bone, and breath to the narrative. It’s meant to be interactive, to provide read-aloud opportunities, and to bring the past alive with power. Language and speech patterns are culled from individuals who lived under the sharecropping system in the American South from the 1920s through the late 1960s. Stemming from the real-life experiences of these individuals, these first-person recollections dramatize the hardships and triumphs faced by those living in a society riddled with discrimination.   

This is a story of courage and survival. It weaves actual events with the emotional truths of those who overcame bigotry. Drawing connections to history, several real-life figures play roles in the story. They are Emmett Till, boxer Cassius Clay, and track runner Wilma Rudolph.  Civil rights notables are also part of the novel’s fabric. These include Charles McLaurin, James Bevel, James Forman, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Martin Luther King Jr. President Lyndon B. Johnson appears as well.

 

THE GAZE OF A KNOWING SOUL

The journeys of Loretta, Roly, and Aggie B. are punctuated by evocative images that appear in each chapter, and are created by my husband and frequent collaborator, Brian Pinkney. When Brian showed me the luminous cover painting depicting Loretta, I hugged him and said, “She’s a knowing soul.” What my husband has achieved is extraordinary. Loretta’s probing gaze draws strength from the resilience of those who came before her, while at the same time looks ahead into the eyes of hope. She’s a child with perspective — and vision.  This is what makes Loretta’s story — and the tales of her family members — relevant and necessary for any kid today who cares deeply about others, about drawing strength from people who love you, and making the world a better place for everyone who will follow the path you set.

In writing what I’ve come to call a “monologue novel,” and in rejoicing at the sight of Brian’s artistic renderings, I’ve learned some important truths about the power of storytelling. Stories can be told by what is said, and also by what’s not said, but expressed through the beauty of a people, hard work, love, and the belief in a bright tomorrow. I’ve also discovered that a family tree is a living, breathing, ever-growing force that has a voice all its own, brought forth by the sap that flows through its roots from one generation to the next. I hope you’re inspired by this special journey. As you read, please know this: With each and every page, the kids you’re about to meet – and every child who walks along with them – are depending on you to bring about change. We can all hold out hope for the world we wish for, and the one we live in now. After you’ve traveled this road, it’ll be your turn to go-tell-it. Then, as the Littles will encourage, go do.

 

Andrea Davis Pinkney is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of numerous books for young readers, among them several collaborations with her husband Brian Pinkney, including Sit –In and Hand in Hand, which received the Coretta Scott King Book Award. Andrea is four-time NAACP Image Award nominee, and recipient of both the May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award and the Regina Medal for her distinguished contribution to the field of children’s literature.

Brian Pinkney has illustrated many works for children, including two Caldecott Honor books, and he has written and illustrated several of his own books. Brian has received the Coretta Scott King Book Award for Illustration and three Coretta Scott King Book Award Honor medals.

The Pinkneys have been named among the “25 Most Influential People in Our Children’s Lives” by Children’s Health magazine. They live in Brooklyn, New York.