Review: Home is With Our Family

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Central Park Revisited

Reviewed By Ebele Oseye

Home is With Our Family
Written by Joyce Hansen
Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Disney:Jump at the Sun Books
New York

Home is With Our Family, by Joyce Hansen, set in the neighborhoods that would become Central Park, and set in the days when  newspapers sold for a penny or two is a timely narrative in many ways, especially as we seek reparations for young men accused and  incarcerated for crimes which they did not commit.

The story opens with a powerful quotation from an article printed in The New York Daily Times, March 3, 1855, describing Seneca Village, as "fifty well-kept clapboard frame houses, two churches, two cemeteries and a school.  Most of the 250 residents who live there are colored, hence the name."

This story written for young adults richly informs all readers who seek a life-enhancing cultural and historical awareness for our young. Through the eyes of thirteen year old Maria, we come to live in the space that would become Central Park.

We see somebody's home, somebody's school, somebody's friendships destroyed when the city uproots the families in order to create Central Park. This narrative will prepare young readers for other texts, including James Weldon Johnson's Black Manhattan, Berlin and Harris' Slavery In New York, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, written by himself and of course the recently published The Central Park Five, by Sarah Burns. With added awareness, readers will no longer take for granted this great park at the center of our city.

Even though we "know" the story, the telling is urgent, involving us deeply in the fate of the families, both children and parents. We come to see up close the slave catcher, the underground railroad, and the high cost of freedom.

The author has great challenges when it comes to balancing a harsh reality with a life-sustaining hope and she does this well, without diminishing the trauma. The central character's transitional age of 13 parallels a city in transition.

In 1855 my own great-grandmother was five years old, and enslaved. Maria's youth pulls us through 150 years plus, allowing us to fully experience earlier times as immediate.  Maria, as her name suggests, becomes the girl who is mother of the woman. In her height and in her ways she calls into being Sojourner Truth whose physical presence radiates throughout the pages of chapter one.

The African Free Schools described in historical texts receive full development here as our contemporary educational system struggles to improve. The slave catcher violates the school as safe haven in the 1850's even as our schools struggle to recover from the horrific deaths of December 14,  2012.

In this narrative, those born free sometimes had little awareness of those enslaved. And it is true that today, people in one state often hold little knowledge of or compassion for those facing catastrophe in another state. Home is with Our Family reminds us to treasure our family and to look with greater care at our parks; many lives  may be buried there.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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