When We Say Black Lives Matter
Maxine Beneba Clarke
Maxine Beneba Clarke
Lothian Children's Books, 2020
3-4yrs, 5-8yrs, Lower Primary, Primary, Upper Primary
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- Cultural diversity
- Human rights
- Race awareness
Children are ever curious and observant. They are tuned into world news and events. They question what they do not understand. What must they make of the powerful words and harrowing images of the Black Lives Matter movement played out in life and portrayed here in a picture book format? Here Maxine Beneba Clarke features parents talking with their young. She says, ‘I was inspired to write and create it when thinking about how to explain the concept of Black Lives Matter to the young African diaspora kids in my extended family, living in over eight different countries across the world - including America, Australia, Germany, Barbados and England.’ The message of this book is strong, but not too strident although it is necessarily political. The appealing rhyming text opens with this verse which captures the book’s intent:
‘Little one, when we say Black Lives Matter,
we’re saying black people are wonderful-strong.
That we deserve to be treated with basic respect,
and that history’s done us wrong.’
A sense of pride underlies the text. There is no shrinking from events portrayed, but not overplayed, in the background. These include marches, police, blockades, and confrontations. Here Clarke presents the Black Lives Matter movement so that it is applicable the world over and can be explored in a simple or more complex way. The illustrations add a layer of complexity which can be discussed or not, depending on a child’s level of maturity. The standout message is pride in being Black and standing up for your beliefs, both individually and collectively.
The endpapers offer a montage of artwork reflecting protests. Throughout the story, the solid, dark colours, created with watercolour pencils on heavily textured paper, are the perfect complement for this subject. The double page spreads bleed to the edges of this over-sized book which features deep purples and browns combined with greens and reds. Clarke explains that her colour scheme is a deliberate reference to the colours of the 1960s and ‘a nod to the fact that the black civil rights movement didn’t actually start with the BLM movement’.
Maxine Beneba Clarke is a widely published Australian writer of Afro-Caribbean descent. ‘The Patchwork Bike’, her first picture book with Van T. Rudd, was a Children’s Book Council of Australia Honour Book for 2017.
- ‘5 Minutes with … Maxine Beneba Clarke’ Hachette Australia, 25 November 2020 https://www.hachette.com.au/news/5-minutes-with-maxine-beneba-clarke
- ‘Picture Books Gives Children Insight into Black Lives Matter’, Sydney Morning Herald review by Jason Steger, 23 November 2020 https://www.smh.com.au/culture/books/picture-book-gives-children-insight-into-black-lives-matter-20201123-p56h38.html
- Book review of ‘When We Say Black Lives Matter’ by Joy Lawn, 21 November 2020 https://paperbarkwords.blog/2020/11/21/when-we-say-black-lives-matter-by-maxine-beneba-clarke/
- ‘When We Say Black Lives Matter by Maxine Beneba Clarke’, reviewed by Queensland Reviewers Collective, Patricia Simms-Reeve https://www.queenslandreviewerscollective.com/2020/11/24/when-we-say-black-lives-matter-by-maxine-beneba-clarke/
- ‘Black Lives Matter: From Social Media Post to Global Movement’ by Aleem Maqbool, BBC News, 9 July https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-53273381
- ‘Why the Black Lives Matter Protests Must Continue’ by Marcia Langton, The Conversation, 5 August 2020 https://theconversation.com/why-the-black-lives-matter-protests-must-continue-an-urgent-appeal-by-marcia-langton-143914