I’m ashamed to admit that before illustrating The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, I wasn’t very knowledgeable about Reconstruction.
Reconstruction is the era of United States history just after the Civil War, when former slaves made their way as free men and women, and the South tried to resist the changes imposed by the victorious North. I am thankful for Dr. Allan Kownslar‘s American history classes at Trinity University, which took an unflinching look at Reconstruction and examined the motives of Klansmen and Radical Republicans alike.
But now that I am a parent, I am facing a new challenge: How do I talk to my kids about that era of history? By focusing on the amazing story of John Roy Lynch—in ten years, transformed from teenage slave to U.S. Congressman—illustrator Tate and author Chris Barton have created a wonderful resource for families to have that conversation. Great news for San Antonio families: At the third annual San Antonio Book Festival on April 11, 2015, Tate and Barton will talk about their book from 1:45 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. in the Children’s Reading Tent.
My kids and I went to the San Antonio Book Festival last year and had a wonderful time. The San Antonio Public Library Foundation hosts the festival from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the grounds of the Central Library and the Southwest School of Art. In addition to presentations from authors and illustrators—including plenty who work on children’s and young adult material—there are family-friendly activities, as well as food trucks and music. Last year, I wrote about the author lineup, interviewed illustrator Joe Cepeda, and wrote a recap of our fun day at the Book Festival.
The opportunity to hear from Tate and Barton at the book festival is especially exciting because it’s so relevant for my family now. My son, F.T., has been learning about U.S. history in school. (Read more about F.T.’s charter school experience at Alamo City Moms Blog.) For a special project, F.T. and his classmates each dressed up as a historical figure and presented facts about him or her; one of his classmates dressed up as Harriet Tubman. After a lesson about the Underground Railroad, F.T. and I had a thoughtful conversation on the way home about why they took such terrible risks to escape slavery.
We don’t pretend that the ugly history of racism in America never happened. We talk about it, but we also find reasons for hope. In our area, there are plenty of teaching opportunities. In 2014, my kids and I participated in the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. March, along with the charter school families from IDEA South Flores pictured above. A visit to Travis Park sparked a discussion of its Confederate memorial, as described in this earlier post. Juneteenth celebrations commemorate the day when Texas slaves first heard news of the Emancipation Proclamation, on June 19, 1865—years after John Roy Lynch left his former master’s plantation. On a future visit to the Hill Country Science Mill in Johnson City, we plan to stop by the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park and talk about LBJ’s role in passing civil rights legislation, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which put teeth into the promises of the 15th amendment—ratified nearly 100 years earlier, during Reconstruction.
Tate’s illustrations appear sweetly naive at first. But look closer at this background detail: those white men are about to lynch that black man.
F.T. and I had an interesting discussion about this image. (F.T. said, “He’s about to get tangled.”) Sadly, if you follow the headlines, then you know that this danger is not really behind us.
Despite these struggles, it was truly an amazing age that John Roy Lynch lived in, and Barton’s attention to detail builds a rich historical context. For example, during his rising career, Lynch worked in a photography studio. F.T. loves taking and editing digital photographs, and seeing an illustration of Lynch getting ready to chemically develop a film negative opened F.T.’s mind to a different era of photographic technology. My daughter, G.N., was fascinated with the illustrations of paddlewheel steamships.
By delving into a neglected era of history (Reconstruction), Tate and Barton are able to celebrate John Roy Lynch’s inspiring story, and also to help families discuss the unfinished business of the struggle for racial equality in America.
I hope you and your family will attend the San Antonio Book Festival this year and spend time with an amazing group of authors and illustrators, including Chris Barton and Don Tate, creators of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch.