Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
Maxine Beneba Clarke, passionate about human rights and social justice, has created a book for children that throbs with colour and emotion.
This tumultuous year has produced events that must question a young child’s ability to make sense of their world. The media, especially television, depicted horrific scenes of the murder of black men in cities in the U.S.A. None can forget the sight of the policeman’s knee on the neck of George Floyd.
When We Say Black Lives Matter is a plea, simply and powerfully stated, of the absolute necessity for the world to recognise and respect the rights of coloured populations.
Black people are “wonderful, strong. History’s done us wrong”, which is true, not just in the United States, but here in Australia as well as Africa and South America.
Some African-Americans are brilliant jazz musicians and the saxophone can “howl a noise,” pouring out the sufferings of centuries.
Frustration screams from the pages that declare, “Enough is enough is enough”. It explains why thousands take to the streets with their placards; and why the avenue close to the White House is now renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza. It’s a token gesture which indicates an admission that the treatment of black people is a disgrace and needs to be addressed.
There are pages that show that black people will not have their joyful natures suppressed, in spite of there being a horrendous past to their history. “Terrible things were said and done”.
The cry “There ain’t no freedom till we get ours” beautifully encapsulates the essence of the problem. A child who is intrinsically fair-minded will be disturbed by the idea that because of their skin colour, black people in many circumstances, are not free.
The book is not all protest, screaming – just anger. Drums thunder out and urge them, “to steady, to rise”. They can bellow, but also laugh; and the author assures her child that she is a precious and radiant child. The last page contains a triumphant statement. A graduate proudly stands with her degree – and the assurance that all will be well.
The book itself is larger in dimension and its outstanding size emphasises the importance of its subject.
The pages are a brilliant collection of generous exuberant colour which suits beautifully Maxine Beneba Clarke’s passionate messaging. The pictures are painted through loosely woven cloth that gives them a strength and implies toughness. Weaving is a time-honoured skill and practised by many cultures.
This book is published in a stage in our history when a thoughtful child would ponder the reason, the cause, of the heartfelt demonstrators’ actions who long for justice and basic rights for people of colour.
Its impact cannot help but be significant, shining a bright light of hope in making life better for people, the author claims, in America, Australia, Germany, Barbados and England.
Maxine Beneba Clarke, of Afro-Caribbean descent, has multiple awards for her writing, short fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Her book, The Hate Race, a memoir of growing up in Australia as a black woman, has received wide spread praise and recognition.
Hopefully this book for children will spark conversation leading to change that is becoming increasingly important in today’s world.
When We Say Black Lives Matter
by Maxine Beneba Clarke
Lothian Children’s Books
ISBN 9780734 420428
$26.99. 26 pages