Kin: Rooted in Hope by Carole Boston Weatherford

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Kin: Rooted in Hope by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jeffery Boston Weatherford (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, September 2023) is a unique and personal account of the author’s search for her genealogical roots. As Alex Haley did for his adult novelization of his ancestor’s stories, Weatherford travels to Africa and scours census records and ship records to find her Black ancestors who had been kidnapped and enslaved against their well. The result is a poetic exploration of the lives of her enslaved ancestors.

Weatherford’s poetic free verse exploration includes accounts of the things she’s researched about her ancestors, a quest quite difficult for Black Americans descended from the enslaved. She researched property records, cemeteries, censuses, and ship records, and she herself visited Africa. She uses shifting perspectives, starting and ending with her own search for her heritage. She gives a “voice” to the non-living: the Chesapeake River, archeological evidence of the past, the enslavers plantation. Then she gives voice, as background, to generations of the Lloyd family, who were the enslavers of Weatherford’s ancestors.

A prose excerpt from Frederick Douglass’s narrative ties the Wye House families to the enslaved people on Weatherford’s own family tree. As Weatherford then returns to her own poems, some of the dots connect. Using all that she knows, Weatherford gives voice to Isaac, Nan, Katy, and others, including at least a dozen enslaved people who truly lived and served at Wye House in Maryland from the late 1700s through the Civil War and even into the Reconstruction Era.

Black-and-white scratchboard art illustrates the book, giving us an image of the ghosts to accompany their voices. In some places, the multiplicity of voices may feel incomplete. This seems appropriate to me, for the complete history of these individuals remains incomplete and unrecorded in print for future generations. Despite the sometimes disjointed or incomplete vision, the author’s journey through her past is nicely captured. She says, “I saw my kin in a blinding new light. . . . I’m blessed that their souls now breathe in me.” Kin: Rooted in Hope is a sometimes painful reminder of all that the enslaved lost but also the touching truths that we learn from their heroic lives.

Kin would be a great choice for younger readers seeking Black ancestral narratives, and it serves as a compelling child-appropriate alternative to Roots (see my review). Alex Haley delved into his family’s past to uncover truths and traditions, and Weatherford embarks on a similar quest. With sensitivity and poetic taste, she sheds light on the lives and relationships of the often overlooked enslaved individuals. She introduces the young reader to some of the complexities of Black history and the impact these enslaved people can have on us today.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advance review copy of this book provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Reviewed on September 14, 2023

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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