Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When We Say Black Lives Matter February 8, 2022

A must-read book.

WHEN I STOPPED at Buckham Memorial Library on Saturday morning to pick up Valentine’s Day-themed books for a visit with the grandchildren, I left with a more important book. I discovered When We Say Black Lives Matter, written and illustrated by Maxine Beneba Clarke, among the new children’s picture books.

The award-winning Australian writer, poet and artist has crafted a story from the perspective of a Black child’s parents explaining why Black Lives Matter. It’s a powerful telling written in words kids can understand, yet with a depth that touches the adults who read this book. The illustrations in watercolor pencil and collage enhance/complement the text in ways that strengthen the message, as all book art should.

The love-filled words reflect on past and present injustices, on strength and song, on Black voices that matter. Just like Black Lives Matter.

I encourage you to read this picture book. The insights it offers are important. Especially now, as protests continue in Minnesota over yet another fatal shooting of a young Black man by police. Simultaneously, the federal trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating the rights of George Floyd during his May 2020 arrest (and subsequent death) continues. February also marks Black History Month.

Another must-read book.

I encourage you to read a second book, which I also found at my library. I’m about a third of the way into We Are Each Other’s Harvest—Celebrating African American Farmers, Land, and Legacy. It’s a collection of stories by Natalie Baszile, author of award-winning Queen Sugar (which I now must read). The book is exactly as its title states, about Black farmers, their past and present connection to the land and the challenges they face. I’m learning a lot. As someone who grew up in rural southwestern Minnesota surrounded only by other White people, I need to read books like these to broaden my understanding about the challenges of being Black in America. Past and present. Because I grew up with a strong connection to the land, these stories really resonate.

It’s refreshing to see signs like this in small town Minnesota. I photographed this in October 2020 in Kenyon, MN. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

Although I never got around to reading Clarke’s picture book to my grandchildren (we ran out of time), I will tell you that Isabelle and Isaac are growing up in a diverse neighborhood. Izzy’s kindergarten class also includes classmates of assorted skin tones and backgrounds. Not just White, Lutheran/Catholic, German/Scandinavian like her maternal grandparents. I appreciate that diversity in the lives of these little people whom I love beyond measure. When they see their classmates and/or playmates, they don’t see color. They see friends.

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TELL ME: Have you read either of these books? What similar books do you recommend I read? I’d love to hear.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling