Title: God Bless the Child
Author: Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr.
Illustrator: Jerry Pinkney
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: Words and Music copyright 1941/Illustrations 2004
Audience: Though this is clearly a picture book, the subject; the illustrations and the song that is used all combine to broaden the attraction across different age groups. This is a book that could very easily be used across generations: with young children, who would be drawn by the illustrations and details, but partnered with the music, could be easy to learn; for older children through teens, the lesson in history, as it could also be partnered with the history of the song and its original singer and/or the musical genre could be well received; and adults will love the history, the illustrations and the story they tell and the song, which has been loved for many, many years.
Summary: God Bless the Child tells the story of the migration of so many rural Southern Blacks, as slavery ended, when the backbreaking work and low wages of farm labor seemed more hopeless and the possibilities of the urban north provided hope. Truly, the illustrations here could stand alone and the words from the classic song stand more to complement the artwork and the story being told.
How does the book present gender, race, culture, economic status and age: There is so much being conveyed in the pictures. At the beginning of the book, we see a rural family that does not appear to have much in the way of material things, listening as the mother reads to them from the Bible. This simple scene speaks of love, faithfulness and humility. While in the scenes in the south there are some portraits of happiness, the larger part of these pictures of rural life show people who are poor and unhappy; the words burdened and weary coming to mind. As the family moves to the north, the colors become bolder, the dress of the people pictured seem finer and the people seem happier. It is also interesting to note what story the pictures tell about the children. In the south, small and young children are pictured working in the fields alongside their parents or the adults. In the north, while a child is pictured shining shoes, more so the children are shown engaging in simple play, daydreaming, singing and going to school. In short, the pictures in the north show children being children.
Theological Conversation Partners: One could include the parable of the talents. Jesus’ parable teaches the story of a man who, before going on a journey, gives his money to his servants. The end result being that when he returned, the servant to whom he had given 5 talents gave him 10 back. Likewise the servant to whom he gave 2 talents returned 4 to him. To both, he responded “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” To the servant to whom he gave 1 talent, only the 1 was returned to him. The man’s response to the servant was not a favorable response. While the parable is a good partner for the song, with greater focus on Matthew 25:29, the story of the migration that is being told would more likely best be partnered with the themes of hope, family and love.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Have you ever moved in your life? Was the move local or long distance? If you have, think back on how you felt about the move before and after? In you have never moved before, think about what this might feel like?
- Knowing these families had little time to make the long journey across several states, imagine the situations that may have played a part in forcing these families to move? How might this have impacted the parents and the children differently?
- List some of the events or situations that might force you to move your family today? After creating the list, decide if this would be an easy or a difficult decision. Why?
- The book began with the family reading/being read the Bible and ended with a little boy in school. What might these two scenes symbolize? Are they similar themes? Why or why not?
- What moral values are being portrayed through the illustrations for this family? How can you tell they are important to them?
This review is written by Union Presbyterian Seminary student LaDonna Harrison.