6.12.2012

Familial City: Tar Beach

Summer is just around the corner and in cities everywhere, rooftops become outdoor gathering places for those in yard less apartments. Faith Ringgold's Caldecott Honor book Tar Beach is a magical story celebrating family, city life and a special bridge.

Much has already been written about this beautiful book (see Want More? section below) and there is every reason in the world to pick it up this summer and read it with your kids. The free-flowing story of Tar Beach was originally told via a quilt Ringgold crafted around the image of a family gathered around a late summer dinner on their rooftop. The term "tar beach" obviously refers to the blackness of the roof on which the narrator (a stand-in for a young Ringgold) relaxes and remembers her life in Harlem, New York City.

Our young protagonist, Cassie, alternates her narration between her imagined flights over the city and the George Washington Bridge (which she imagines wearing "like a giant diamond necklace") and a more realistic vision of her family's life in the city. There is her dad, who has a hard time finding construction work, her mom, full of laughter and tears, and her younger brother BeBe, who Cassie eventually takes with her on her nighttime flights.

It is hard to describe the beauty of this book. It is truly a love letter to the city and the freedom it offers. I hope you add it to your summer reading list.

Want More?
Visit the author's website.
Flying over the city is a popular motif in urban picture books: see any number of my bird book reviews, but also: Flying Over Brooklyn, Come Fly With Me, WingsThe Little Reindeer, The Tale of Hilda Louise and Abuela.
Enjoy another of my favorite rooftop books: At Night
Gathering Books has a blog post with links to educational resources about the book.
Watch this great Reading Rainbow episode, featuring New York City rooftops and a lovely reading of Tar Beach.  (If you search for Ringgold on You Tube, you will find several videos of her discussing her book and quilt.)

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