There’s a road, girl. There’s a road.

10745935When you talk about family, you talk about history. It’s impossible not to. Jacqueline Woodson’s picture book, Show Way, is about the way family connects you–and your mother–and your great-great-grandmother–to the past and the present and the future.

It begins with the story of Soonie’s great-grandma, who was sold away from her family when she was seven. Soonie’s great-grandma had a baby girl named Mathis May, and Mathis May had a baby girl whose name history “went and lost,” and that baby girl had Soonie. And Soonie was Jacqueline Woodson’s great-grandma. The writing is gorgeous and rhythmic, with phrases that call back and forth across generations of “tall and straight-boned” women who “loved [their] babies up.” Each mother points her daughter toward the future, but, as Jacqueline’s own mother says to her, “All the stuff that happened before you were born is your own kind of Show Way.”

One of my favorite details about this book is the lost names of Soonie’s great-grandma and Soonie’s mother. Those were real women who really lived–they were Jacqueline Woodson’s great-great-grandmother and great-great-great-great-grandmother (right? did I do the math right?). And even without names, they’re still part of the family. This book is simultaneously and equally about one family’s history and about African-American history. There are so many lost people whose lives and families were torn apart like Soonie’s great-grandma and mother, but those unnamed people are still part of a distinct, individual family like this one.

Soonie’s mama held her
up in the moonlit night.
Showed her the stars,
the moon, whispered
into her ear,
There’s a road, girl.
There’s a road.

Loved that Soonie up so.
Yes, she loved that
Soonie up.

 

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