Title: Strange Fruit. Volume 1, Uncelebrated Narratives From Black History
Author: Joel Christian Gill
Illustrator: Joel Christian Gill
Publisher: Fulcrum Publishing
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
Strange Fruit, Volume I is a collection of short stories about uncelebrated African American heroes. They’re stories that readers won’t often find in the typical history books, but each story is certainly worthy. Among the stories are: Henry “Box” Brown, who escaped from slavery by mailing himself to Philadelphia; Theophilus Thompson, first black chess master; and Bass Reeves, deputy US Marshall of the Old West.
This graphic novel is definitely a unique gem. It has something for people of every age, but will make an excellent teaching tool for a younger audience. The author doesn’t shy away from the heavy topics of racism, but he goes about presenting them in ways that make this a safe space for discussion. Racial epithets are represented by images in place of the words and the hostility of Jim Crow laws are brought to life in the form of actual crows instead of an angry mob. There is much to be read into the illustrations that Gill has created. Also be sure to keep an eye out for a Harry Potter reference! The end includes a “Did You Know” section with more facts about each story as well as a bibliography that lists sources for each individual story. The one downside is that this collection is lacking female heroes. Hopefully a Volume II with rectify this. Overall, definitely a must have for libraries and a book for teachers to strongly consider using during Black History Month lessons. While one book can’t fill in the voices that have been mostly overlooked by history, this one is a great start and is sure to inspire readers to believe that they too are capable of great things.
Also consider pairing with this Strange Fruit Lyric Analyzing lesson for grade 6-12, as this Billie Holiday song is discussed in the graphic novel’s Foreword.