I was recently reminded me of this wonderful picture book by Joyce Carol Thomas that fits in perfectly with our study of the American pioneers. I Have Heard of a Land is a poetic portrait of brave Americans, including many black settlers freed from slavery, who sought a new life in the west. This story is inspired by Thomas' own family's journey to the Oklahoma Territory during the 1893 land run. Thomas writes from the perspective of a strong and determined black, woman pioneer. Below are some of the phrases that create the most powerful feelings and images for me.
I have heard of a land where...
the earth is red with promises
a woman can plant her crop and walk all day and never come to the end of it
the imagination has no fences
what is dreamed one night is accomplished the next day
flapjacks spread out big as wagon wheels
butter is the color of melted sun
her possibilities reach as far as her eyes can see
It must have been wonderful to imagine such possibilities. As Thomas writes in her Author's Note, "I Have Heard of A Land is
one story of the journey of African Americans to a place of hope, a
hope connected to the yearning for land - when land was another word
Although limited, I have found a few other children's books (suitable for second grade readers) that document the African-American experience during Westward Expansion. I'd love to know of others.
Aunt Clara Brown: Official Pioneer by Linda Lowery
This is a biography of a a freed slave who travel to Colorado to find her daughter.
Wagon Wheels by Barbara Brenner
A story of an African American family traveling to Kansas in 1878 to claim free land.
Black Cowboy Wild Horses by Julius Lester
Based on the true story of cowboy Bob Lemmons.
Black Frontiers: A History of African American Heros in the Old West by Lillian Schlissel
Includes black and white photographs dating from 1852-1948