I was leafing through a pile of picture books (imagine that!), and found this gem.
Daniel Minter’s acrylic wash illustrations are vibrant and luminous in this 2019 Caldecott Honor book. They make me feel like I am peering through the translucent glass of time at a memory. Pure magic.
On reunion morning, we rise before
the sun. Daddy hums as he packs
our car with suitcases and a cooler full of
snacks. He says there’s nothing like going
This opening paragraph sets the scene, lets us know we’re in for a journey on land and through time, and it does this with such lovely lyrical language. Notice the internal rhyme of pack and snacks. The assonance of sun and hums. We sense the buoyant mood of the father.
They settle into the car and start the journey in the dark. Sis nods off. But all is not well. The boy narrating the story can’t sleep, as much as he tries. Even when his Momma says he’d “better catch some zzzs” while he can.
He can’t stop thinking about how everyone else will have something to share during the reunion celebration—except him.
I doze off in a cloud of worry and wake to
sunbeams tickling my face. I squint and see a
familiar John Deere tractor store and a gray silo
standing at attention. We’re almost there….
Granny, in the midst of feeding her chickens, welcomes them. Then the boy is awash in relatives and talk. He plays with his cousins, who show him the things they’ve brought to talk about and share. When they ask what he’s brought, he’s saved from answering by a tractor ride, with his father as driver.
“Cotton has been on this land a long time, just like us,” Daddy says. “Pa would drive your Uncle Jay and me on a tractor just like this one. Look to your left, Pa would say. Look to your right. The land just seemed to go on forever. Everything you see, Pa told us, is ours.“
I think about what Daddy said and sit up tall. Pa is gone, but this is our time to come together and remember.
More talk and remembering. The pressure to find something to share grows. The boy comes to realize what his family’s land is all about, and decides to collect its treasures.
And then the celebration begins. His daddy starts.
“Our people were stolen from Africa and shipped to this continent in chains,” Daddy says. “But no one could lock away their dreams…”
Everyone offers their tributes until the boy drums up the courage to speak.
I feel like a spotlight is blazing just on me.
I look down and say nothing.
“It’s okay, Lil Alan,” Sis whispers.
I lift my head and see gleaming smiles.
I try again.
“Cotton for the quilts Granny made to keep her children warm,” I say, holding a white cloud in my fingers.
“A pecan for the trees Pa planted and all of the kids love to climb.”
I pinch dirt and let it rain to the ground. “And earth for land that’s ours as far as we can see.”
Fireflies wink and whirl in a carnival around us.
“That’s alright,” I hear Granny say.
Daddy flashes a thumbs-up.
I grin at the moon. It glows back at me.
“We’re a mighty family!” Daddy booms.
“Mighty!” we roar back.
As a former farm girl, I responded viscerally to this story. We are the land. The land is us. But it is even more meaningful for Black Americans who’ve struggled mightily to own anything, including themselves, in this country. This story is a joyful celebration of freedom and self-determination. And it also speaks to family, belonging, memories, laughter, and to love.
Pair this book with Jacqueline Woodson’s THIS IS THE ROPE: A STORY FROM THE GREAT MIGRATION, a story of a family who were not as fortunate as the one here.
Make a list of the foods you eat that come directly from the farm. What kinds of foods are they? What clothes do you wear that are made of natural fibers like cotton or wool?
Make a scrapbook of photos and stories that are shared history among your family members.
Title: Going Down Home With Daddy
Author: Kelly Starling Lyons
Illustrator: Daniel Minter
Publisher: Peachtree, 2019
Themes: family, farming, Black history
Ages: K-5th grade
For more perfect picture books, please visit Susanna Hill’s website.