Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Band of Angels

A Band of Angels: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers
by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Raúl Colón

A Band of Angels: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers (Amazon / Library) is a beautiful story recounting an important piece of American history. Written as if it were an old family story, handed down through generations in the African American oral tradition, now being told to a child by her favorite aunt, the warmth of connection is easy to feel in this book.

It tells the story of the Jubilee Singers, and in particular the story of the fictionalized main character Ella, inspired by the real life Ella Sheppard Moore, as she travels to attend Fisk, the newly opened school for former slaves, to study music. In hopes of raising money for Fisk, her music teacher took several students on a singing tour. At first, they mainly performed the songs that were popular at the time, but that didn't seem to garner them much attention, or fund.

But Ella, somewhat despondent, opened what may have been one of their last performances with an old spiritual she grew up hearing other slaves singing. When the other performers joined in the crowd went wild. They changed their performances to singing the heart-felt songs of trial and hope, and their tour continued, successfully raising enough money to save the school. And in doing so, they introduced spirituals to the world, and helped preserve them for history.

A Band of Angels: A Story Inspired by the Jubilee Singers (Amazon / Library) wins the Self-Rescuing Princess Society seal of approval for addressing the plain truths about post-slavery racism head-on, but in a way that small children can handle. The struggles of the Jubilee Singers, their optimism, their near-failure, and then their stumbling on the key to their success is an excellent lesson in the importance of hope and determination. This book is good for middle grade readers to enjoy on their own, or for smaller children to read with an adult.

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