My Name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth by Ann Turner, illustrated by James Ransome.
Harper Collins Children’s Books, New York, 2015.
Picture book biography, 32 pages.
Illustrator has won Coretta Scott King Award, and author has won other awards.
Lexile: AD1410L (What does AD mean in Lexile levels?)
AR Level: 4.4 (Worth 0.5 points)
Award-winning author Ann Turner and illustrator James Ransome team up for a lyrical biography of Sojourner Truth, inspired as much as possible by her own words.
I purchased this book new at full price because I couldn’t get any used books about Sojourner Truth from the local used bookstore in the time frame required, but the other bookstore had this.
This book had so many excellent elements that simply failed to make a cohesive whole. The text is written in a first-person, somewhat poetic style. It is a picture book biography but has difficult language and content such that I was somewhat uncomfortable reading it with an 8 year old, let alone the younger children this seems to be marketed to.
For example, on page five part of the text reads “beat me until the blood ran//those marks will never go away/I can feel them like ridges under my dress.” This is true, and very poetically stated, however I still don’t want to read that to a six year old!
The pictures had some issues too. Although it wasn’t immediately noticeable, there was a big disconnect between the beginning and the end of the book. The first few pages have people represented with large, round faces, and somewhat simplified compared to the later pages which are more realistic. Additionally, the first pictures are very light and idyllic, compared to the later pages which have a very dark palette. Since the beginning of the book was about Sojourner’s life in slavery, compared to her preaching and speeches in the later portion of the book, I didn’t like the subtext of this, although I suppose it could be explained by the meetings mostly taking place at night.
Neither the pictures nor the text worked individually or together to tell a concrete narrative. On pages nine and ten, Sojourner escapes with her baby girl, Sophia. Then on page 13, her son is sold away down South. This section was extremely confusing to the children and we had to re-read it several times. Although the text gives the baby’s name and Sophia is a girl’s name, it wasn’t readily apparent that these were two different children. After seeing a baby, then hearing about a child and finally seeing a young boy, they naturally assumed that the child was the same one.
Honestly, I found this book difficult to follow as an adult, so I can fully understand why the children left our reading confused about who Sojourner Truth was and why they should care. The best part of this book was the historical information at the very end. I wish that I had simply read that to them instead, because it would have been less confusing. Rereading this after having read a chapter book biography of Sojourner Truth, I did see where the main points in her life came from, and was able to appreciate the book a little more. However, most people are going to be reading this book in order to learn more about Sojourner Truth, not to see her life re-imagined in a creative way.
After thinking about it some, I realized that if I had read the text of this book as a poem in a high school or adult book, I would probably have enjoyed it. And while I felt that the illustrations as a whole were not cohesive, I did enjoy several of the spreads and liked the imaginative way that some of Sojourner’s statements were represented. This was an ambitious project that had some good elements, but in the end it lacked a cohesive whole and was too discordant for me to recommend it.