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The Children's Bookshelf: Magnolia Flower - October 16, 2022

Magnolia Flower skillfully adapted by National Book Award winner Abram X. Kendi and illustrated gorgeously by Loveis Wise is a beautifully presented picture book based on a short story written by Zora Neale Hurston in 1925.

The story is told by the old River at the insistence of the younger and more playful Brook. River, a wise witness to history, tells Brook and the reader about the “Long Ago” when humans of pale skin held humans of dark skin in bondage and how some of the dark-skinned people fled in the night toward freedom---one of those who fled was a physically strong and determined man named Bentley.

Bentley married a Cherokee woman by the name of Swift Deer and settled a community. They had a daughter named Magnolia Flower. When Magnolia Flower grew up and fell in love with a gentle man named John it angered her father. He wanted her to marry “a man of medals not words.” Her father locks him up! During the night, however, Magnolia Flower frees him and they flee. Their life together is a beautiful love story guarded by the ever-present River, the Brook and the three leaning trees on its banks.

The double spread illustration of a Magnolia Flower tree in full bloom is striking. The illustrator shows Magnolia Flower herself on a branch in the middle of this tree. Those who had once been owned by others are now seen freely walking about the land. Pink and yellow magnolia flower blossoms visually celebrate the entire illustration.

Magnolia Flower written by Zora Neale Hurston and adapted by Ibram X. Kendi with illustrations by Loveis Wise is a story that needs to be deeply felt as well as carefully read. Children 5-8 years of age will enjoy River’s storytelling style (Amistad Books for Young Readers/ an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books) 2022.

The Children’s Bookshelf is a production of WCMU. Links to the podcast and the Activity Questions can be found at Children’s Bookshelf dot org.

Activity Questions for Magnolia Flower

The Brook in this story has a good time hurling its water all over, singing out loud and dancing faster and faster. Be the Brook by doing the following creative movements: Move your arms and hands as if you were splashing your water here and there. Then add your voice and facial expressions to the fun by singing a happy song. And finally get your feet involved by dancing. Remember to feel the water as you splash it about.

Why was the daughter of Swift Deer and Bentley named Magnolia Flower? What caused the magnolia flowers to bloom again? Who did Magnolia Flower fall in love with? What did John teach her to do and what did she teach John to do? How did they escape her father? Why did they return to the Brook and the three leaning trees after so many years?

Study the colorful front cover, the end papers, and the illustration inside the book of the spectacular tree with gorgeous magnolia flowers stretching across two pages. Then draw and color your own picture of magnolia flowers in full boom! Take your time and fill your picture with beauty.

Sue Ann Martin is professor emerita of Communication and Dramatic Arts and the founding and past Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. She first became interested in children’s literature when she wrote her PhD thesis on the oral characteristics of the Caldecott Award-winning children’s books. Her PhD is in Speech and Interpretation with a cognate in Early Childhood Education. She went on to review children’s books for the Detroit Free Press, write three popular resource books for teachers regarding children’s books and the creative process. She also reviewed newly-published books for Arts Almanac specials on WCMU Public Radio. Her 2002 children’s books special for WCMU won a Merit Award in Special Interest Programming from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.