Tending to the Past
Selfhood and Culture in Children's Narratives about Slavery and Freedom
How Black writers have circumvented stereotypes to positively portray Black survival, creativity, and autonomy to young readers
In many popular depictions of Black resistance to slavery, stereotypes around victimization and the heroic efforts of a small number of individuals abound. These ideas ignore the powers of ordinary families and obscure the systematic working of racism. Tending to the Past: Selfhood and Culture in Children’s Narratives about Slavery and Freedom examines Black-authored historical novels and films for children that counter this distortion and depict creative means by which ordinary African Americans survived slavery and racism in early America.
Tending to the Past argues that this important, understudied historical writing—freedom narratives—calls on young readers to be active, critical thinkers about the past and its legacies within the present. The book examines how narratives by children’s book authors, such as Joyce Hansen, Julius Lester, Marilyn Nelson, and Patricia McKissack, and the filmmakers Charles Burnett and Zeinabu irene Davis, were influenced by Black cultural imperatives, such as the Black Arts Movement, to foster an engaged, culturally aware public. Through careful analysis of this rich body of work, Tending to the Past thus contributes to ongoing efforts to construct a history of Black children’s literature and film attuned to its range, specificity, and depths.
Tending to the Past provides illuminating interpretations that will help scholars and educators see the significance of the freedom narratives’ reconstructions in a neoliberal era, a time of shrinking opportunities for many African Americans. It offers models for understanding the powers and continuing relevance of the Black child’s creative agency and the Black cultural practices that have fostered it.
"Tending to the Past is a groundbreaking study of the construction of history in texts by Black authors for young people. The quality and depth of analysis offered by Karen Michele Chandler is unparalleled."- Katharine Capshaw, coeditor of Who Writes for Black Children? African American Children's Literature before 1900