We Shall Overcome by Bryan Collier

We Shall Overcome by Bryan Collier. Orchard Books, 2021. 9781338540376

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5 

Format: Uncorrected proof

What did you like about the book? The lyrics of “We Shall Overcome,” the gospel hymn turned protest song, run along the bottom of each page of this beautiful new picture book.  Black and white representations of iconic moments of the civil rights movement are juxtaposed with the routine of a contemporary Black girl going to school.  She boards her school bus against a backdrop of Montgomery boycotters and waves hello to her classmates on the bus as Rosa Parks sits alone and silent.  The line “We are not afraid…” accompanies the girl as she enters her school as the Little Rock Nine and their armed guard ascend the ramp.  The final scenes show the girl and her classmates walking home and participating in the creation of a Black Lives Matter mural as Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King, John Lewis and many more look on (seemingly from the Edmund Pettus Bridge).

Bryan Collier has done a masterful job connecting the struggles of the past with the reality of the present, showing how much progress has been made and how much is still needed (as the book poignantly closes with the single word “Someday.”)  His trademark style of watercolor and collage is highly effective as he layers the greyscale images of historical events with the sunny present day and the bright colors worn by the girl and her friends.  Due to its placement, the text is almost incidental, but it is essential to read those moving lyrics (or perhaps even sing them) to get the full effect of the illustrations and the message of the book.

Back matter traces the origin of the song and its place in the civil rights movement, and identifies the significance of some of the landmarks depicted throughout the book.  An interesting illustrator’s note from Collier explains some of his artistic choices.

Anything you did not like about the book?  No

To whom would you recommend this book? Elementary teachers at all grade levels should include this in their classroom libraries and music teachers will appreciate it as well.  A valuable addition for civil rights units, Black History Month, and everyday reading.  

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Picture books, or perhaps in 782 in nonfiction

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  Yes

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: December 7, 2021

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