The Significance of "Voice" in Heart and SoulKadir Nelson's choice of "voice" makes the book more accessible and more interesting. It's not dry facts but the story of real families. In an Author's Note at the end of the book, Nelson explains, "I knew I could not convey the whole story in a hundred pages, so I felt the most natural and concise way to tell the tale would be through the recollection of a narrator whose family history was very closely tied to the American story." Nelson goes on to relate how he interviewed family members, listened to their stories and looked at family photographs as part of his research in preparation for writing the book. He continues, "I wanted to share these stories in the way I heard and saw them, through the words and family photos of an elder African American, a grandmother-like figure who would allow me to focus on major historical milestones that affected both her family and the rest of the country." The Prologue sets the tone of the story with the very first sentence, "Most folks my age and complexion don't speak much about the past."
More About the Illustrations and FormatAt first glance, Heart and Soul looks like a traditional picture book, but it's not. The book is 108 pages long. In addition to the illustrated history of America and African Americans, the book includes a prologue, epilogue, author's note, timeline, bibliography and index. This history book is designed in picture book format in that every page of text faces a full-page illustration and there are also several large illustrations that cover a full double-page spread. From the framed sepia-toned portrait of the narrator as a young girl that faces the first page of the Prologue to the full color portraits and scenes of well-known and little known African Americans, Kadir Nelson's dramatic paintings serve as an invitation to readers to look carefully, to think about what they see and read, and to read on to learn more.
Heart and Soul: The Time Period CoveredHow did Kadir Nelson decide where to start his book? His Author's Note provides some insight. "Although our beginnings were not free of blemish, the work of navigating through the marvelous words of Declaration of Independence and the contradictory inhumane and discriminatory practices of the new country would help define the nation's character over the span of hundreds of years. It is a story of the country's continuing challenges of coming-of-age."
The book's chapters reflect the book's emphasis: Chapter 1. Declaration of Independence, 2. Slavery, 3. Abolition, 4. Lincoln's War, 5. Reconstruction, 6. Cowboys and Indians: Native American and Westward Negroes, 7. Turn of the Century and the Great Migration, 8. Harlem and the Vote for Women, 9. Hard Times and World War II, 10. Black Innovation, 11. Jim Crow's A-Dying, 12. Revolution. The final chapter ends with the signing of the Civil Rights Act into law in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, following by a large double page spread painting of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his "I Have a Dream" speech. In the Epilogue, the narrator covers the subsequent years up to the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. An accompanying full-page painting shows the hands of an African American holding a red, white and blue "I voted" button.
The Author and Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Among the books Nelson has illustrated are A Nation's Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis by Matt De la Pena, Ellington Was Not A Street by Ntozake Shange, Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, MOSES: When Harriet Tubman Led her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford and Change Has Come: An Artist Celebrates Our American Spirit, with Nelson's drawings and the words of Barack Obama.
In a CNN interview that focused on Heart and Soul, Nelson said, "African-American history is full of drama and really interesting stories and paradoxes that I’m really drawn to. And being African-American myself, having grown up learning this history, I really enjoy telling it in my own way." (Source: January 24th, 2012, CNN Q&A)