“Strange Fruit: Volume 1” by Joel Christian Gill, foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
c.2014, Fulcrum Books $23.95 172 pages
The history book you had in school last year almost put you to sleep. It was filled with dates and stats, dead people, lost battles and towns that aren’t even around anymore. Who really cares about that stuff anyway?
You should. So you can learn about that which has made your life easier. And in the new book “Strange Fruit” by Joel Christian Gill, you’ll learn about people that history books have mostly forgotten.
Shortly after grad school, Joel Christian Gill did a series of paintings that he says “freed” him from the racism that his father and grandfather endured. But something was missing from his paintings: he was “coming up short” in storytelling.
That’s when he started doing comics, telling stories of “obscure black history.”
Take, for instance, Richard Potter. Potter was born around 1783. After his father ensured his education, young Richard spent many years traveling and he became fascinated with magic tricks. He tried, practiced, learned and tried again until he mastered several tricks and invented some of his own – which eventually made him “very wealthy.”
And on his deathbed in 1835, he finally admitted something important: Richard Potter, America’s first stage magician, was a black man.
After his emancipation, Theophilus Thompson worked as a janitor. One night, he noticed that his employer had a curious game set up on a table, and Thompson studied it. He figured out how to the strange game worked, and it didn’t take long before he was playing competition chess – and winning! He even wrote a book about it … and then one day, he vanished. Rumors swirled around his disappearance, but Thompson was never seen again.
In this book, you’ll learn about The Black Cyclone who started his biking career due to a great kindness from “family” and later lay in an unmarked grave for more than 70 years.
You’ll read two letters from a man determined to save his daughter from slavery. You’ll learn about the baddest U.S. Marshall that ever lived – so bad that he even jailed his own son. And you’ll read the sad, sad story of the Malagites who lost their home off the coast of Massachusetts a mere century ago…
Are you always on your child to READ SOMETHING, anything, except a comic book?
Well, “Strange Fruit” is a graphic novel, and you’ll want him to read it.
Through the art of the cartoon, Gill tells nine stories of African Americans who did something astounding for the time in which they lived, thereby making a difference that resonates today. These fascinating tales are somewhat marred by weird mini-vocabulary lessons, but that stops early on and the tales get more meaningful as things progress. Ultimately I liked this book because I think it speaks to kids who want their learning more on the arty side.
There’s really no reason (except for font size) that an adult can’t enjoy this book, but it’s more meant for 12-to-17-year-olds. For teens who don’t know enough about history, in fact, “Strange Fruit” will wake them up.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books. Her self-syndicated book reviews appear in more than 260 newspapers.