Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How Ellen's Broom swept me off my feet

This Valentine's Day, I give you a book from the award shelf.

Ellen's Broom, by Kelly Starling Lyons, came to my attention because it won a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for Daniel Minter's beautiful linoleum block prints. It's set in a part of history that I don't think I've seen covered in a children's book (the Addy books, maybe?): soon after the Civil War, when marriages between slaves became legally recognized and registered. Like many slaves, Ellen's parents jumped a broom to signify their marriage; in fact, that broom is hanging on the family's wall. But they knew that on its own, that ritual provided them no legal protection, and many couples like them were sold apart from each other.

When their marriage is finally registered, “Papa kisse[s] Mama and twirl[s] her in the air like a new bride,” and the legal recognition means a lot to Ellen, too; in particular, she smiles at the addition of her own name to the legal record. Still, she says that when she gets married one day, she'd like to jump a broom in honor of the family's tradition.

Ellen has a loving family before the book begins, but the story's events make her feel that the outside world thinks that family is real, that the relationships within it matter. Others may read the story differently - and I don't mean to appropriate this story for modern discourse's sake, only to highlight a parallel that struck me - but it reminded me of more contemporary discussions of what marriages should be legally recognized.

Happy Valentine's Day. Hope you're enjoying relationships of any kind that matter to you.

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