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2012 Coretta Scott King Award for Writing, Honor Book for Illustration: Heart and Soul

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans

Written and Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Balzar and Bray, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-173074-0


This extraordinary work of art tells the story of America through the lens of African American history. It is at once familiar and yet unfamiliar to all too many. Even author-illustrator Kadir Nelson informs his reader, “[b]efore working on Heart and Soul, I had known that African Americans had a deep connection to America, but it wasn’t until I became engrossed in my research that I could fully appreciate how.” Now, any reader of this book has the chance to “appreciate how.” As a brisk trot through the timeline, Nelson’s “intimate introduction” offers its readers the opportunity to digest the larger landscape of American history while instilling curiosity about the individual men and women who forged forward in times of crisis and opportunity. While nonfiction purists might resist the fictional narrator, an elderly woman who invokes the oral tradition and tells “young folk” that “it’s important that you pay attention, honey,” others will embrace this personalized history. It is difficult to imagine any reader resisting the extraordinary oil paintings rendered by Nelson. The detailed paintings pulse with life, and include portraits of individuals and groups contrasted against dramatic skies. The two-page spreads that punctuate the book allow us to bear witness to the Middle Passage, run with the Union troops at Fort Wagner, or face striking workers during the early 20th century. Perhaps because of Nelson’s previous experience with film, his use of contrast, line, and shifting perspectives and direction visually carry his reader through the arc of American history, as if a moving image. The backmatter includes an author’s note, timeline, and bibliography. As a work of art and history, Heart and Soul offers teachers and their students seemingly endless classroom connections and opportunities.

Teaching Invitations

Grades 4-8

  • Moments in History. After reading Heart and Soul, have your students divide up into small groups based on the period in American history that most interested them. What questions do they have about that time period? What particular questions do they have about the African American experience and/or other ethnic or religious groups? Once the group has developed key research questions, have them conduct research using the digital resources and books listed in the Further Explorations section below. Students may decide to share their research in the form of an original nonfiction picture book, like Heart and Soul, or a podcast, or a series of murals, portraits, and statues for a hallway in your school, like the ones in the US Capitol Rotunda described in chapter one.
  • Oral Histories: Family. After reading Heart and Soul, have your students interview a family member, neighbor, or adult at your school about a moment in history that s/he lived through. What did they experience? How did they feel during the experience? What did they know at the moment compared to what they learned after the event was long over? After the interviews are conducted, have your students do research on the event, using print and digital sources. Using Heart and Soul as a mentor text, have the students write a narrative using the voice of the person they interviewed, but provided the full range of information gleaned on the subject. Your students might want to pay particular attention to the ways in which the race, gender, or ethnicity of the interviewee shaped his/her experience of the event. For guidance and examples of oral histories online, look to the Education Committee of the Oral History Association at:
  • Oral Histories and Your Community. What is the history of your community? What can the elders in your community tell you? Contact your local senior citizens center or retirement community, to look for volunteers to be interviewed. Who has lived in the community for their entire lives? Most of their lives? Have your students develop questions about the community in different decades, drawing on the history of the 20th century detailed in Heart and Soul. Interview senior citizens, and then have your students conduct additional research using print and digital resources. Write a class book that tells the story of your community and its residents. Make copies of the book available at the senior center, local library, and school. In addition, select a panel of students and seniors to participate in a talk filmed for your local cable television station or podcast on your school website. Again, you may find the resources of the Oral History Association valuable in guiding and planning your work: .
  • Illustrator Study. Have your students examine the art work in the picture books that Nelson has illustrated as well as We are the Ship, another book that he both authored and illustrated. What themes do they see in his work? How does his style vary? Next, have students listed to the January 2012 NPR Interview with Nelson (see Further Explorations below) to hear about some of the influences on his painting. For an even more nuanced exploration of visual literacy across visual texts from different time periods, explore some of the artists that he mentions and see if you can trace their influence in his illustrations.

Grades 6-8

  • Liberia. You and your students may not be aware of efforts on the part of some black and white Americans to relocate formerly enslaved African Americans to Liberia, on the west Coast of Africa. To learn more about Paul Cuffee, a successful African American ship captain and merchant from Massachusetts who initially spearheaded the venture, and James Forten, a wealthy African-American Revolutionary War veteran and ship builder from Philadelphia, you can explore online collections (; ) and read about them and the movement in Tonya Bolden’s middle grade nonfiction Tell All the Children Our Story: Memories of Being Young and Black in America.

Critical Literacy

  • Finding Our Faces. In chapter one, we are told that the Capitol building in Washington, DC was “built by slaves and freemen to be a symbol of the liberty Americans had won from England in the American Revolution,” and the while the “paintings tell the story of how American came to be” there is “nary a black face in all of those pretty pictures.” A quick review of some of the primary sources available in the Online Resources will demonstrate quite clearly that Africans and then African Americans have been a part of US history from its inception, playing roles that may surprise those who only know the “textbook” version of American history. Have your students explore the paintings in the Rotunda ( as well as their setting (, including a virtual tour, and finally, the language written about the Rotunda and its paintings. Other works of art in the Rotunda are also described online. Whose voices are included and excluded in this exhibition? Compare and contrast America’s story in the Rotunda with America’s story as represented in the National Statuary Hall, also a part of the Capitol building, which you can find an overview of at: and an index on each statue at: Do your students agree with the choices that represent your state? Why or why not? Explore the possibilities of creating public art in your community. Can your students design a mural that embraces the full history of your community and its residents over time?

Further Explorations

Digital Resources

  • This week, we have general African American history resources, covering the colonial period through the Harlem Renaissance, and then regional resources along the East Coast, covering the colonial period through the Civil War. While it is impossible to be comprehensive, we wanted to provide a broad range of African American history that may not be as well known to the education community as particular moments in American history, such as the Civil Rights Era.

2012 Coretta Scott King Award

The Art of Kadir Nelson

January 2012 NPR Interview with Kadir Nelson and the Chair of the Coretta Scott King Committee

General African-American History

Library of Congress: The African-American Mosaic

Library of Congress: African-American Perspectives: Pamphlets, 1818-1907

National Humanities Center

National Geographic Underground Railroad Site

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Slavery and the Making of America: PBS Online Resources

Library of Congress, African-American Odyssey: Slavery

Library of Congress, African-American Odyssey: Free Blacks in the Antebellum Period

National Park Service African American History

Harlem Renaissance

Harlem Renaissance: Library of Congress

Great Migration

Great Migration: NPR Story

Great Migration: Library of Congress

African-Americans in the North 1609-1865

Slavery in the North


Museum of African American History, Boston and Nantucket

New Bedford Whaling Museum

Massachusetts Historical Society

Phillis Wheatley, Colonial Poet

New Hampshire

Portsmouth Black History Trail

Portsmouth African American Burial Ground


Fortune’s Story: Slavery in Connecticut

Fortune’s Bones NPR Story


University of Southern Maine – Maine African-American History

Maine Memory Network of Maine Historical Society: African American Search Results


Vermont Historical Society: Underground Railroad Project

Buxton, Canada

Buxton National Historic Site and Museum

Article on the Founding of Buxton

African-Americans in the Mid-Atlantic 1609-1865

New York

The New York Historical Society: Slavery in New York

Slavery in New York’s Hudson Valley

Digital Schomburg: Online Exhibitions of the Schomburg Center of The New York Public Library


Pennsylvania Historical Society: Free African Americans in Philadelphia

African-Americans and Pennsylvania’s Railroad History


Maryland Historical Society: Online Image Collection of African-American History

African-Americans in the South 1609-1865


Colonial Williamsburg: African-American History

Virginia Historical Society: African-American History

North Carolina

Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture, Charlotte, NC

South Carolina

PBS: Gullah Culture / South Carolina

Dave Drake, Potter, Biography and Samples of Pottery

Dave the Potter Exhibit Information

David Drake’s Pottery at Philadelphia Museum of Art with Great Audio Files

The Classroom Bookshelf Blog Entry for Dave the Potter


New Orleans African American Museum

Amistad Research Center of Tulane University


Georgia Historical Society


  • Because we have so many titles that we would like to share, in order for you to explore American History through the lens of the African American History, we have included a larger selection of print titles. As a result, we are not annotating them this week. This is only impressionistic, and by no means comprehensive.


Greenfield, E. (2011). The great migration: Journey to the north. Ill. by J.S. Gilchrist. New York: Amistad.

McKissack, P. (2011). Never forgotten. Ill. by L. and D. Dillon. New York: Schwartz and Wade.

Myers, W.D. (1993). The great migration: An American story. Ill. by Jacob Lawrence. New York: Harper Collins.

Nelson, M. (2004). Fortune’s bones: The manumission requiem. Asheville, NC: Front Street.

Picture Book Fiction

Edwards, P. D. (1997). Barefoot: Escape on the Underground Railroad. Ill. by H. Cole. New York: HarperTrophy.

Hopkinson, D. (1993). Sweet Clara and the freedom quilt. Ill. by J. Ransome. New York: Dragonfly Books.

Hopkinson, D. (2005). Under the quilt of night. Ill. by J. Ransome. New York: Aladdin.

Levine, E. (2007). Henry’s freedom box. Ill. by K. Nelson. New York: Scholastic.

Morrow, B. O. (2003). A good night for freedom. Ill. by L. Jenkins. New York: Holiday House.

Nelson, V. M. (2003). Almost to freedom. Ill. by C. Bootman. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books.

Rappaport, D. (2000). Freedom river. Ill. by B. Collier. New York: Hyperion.

Slate, J. (2009). I want to be free. Ill. by E. B. Lewis. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Winter, J. (1988). Follow the drinking gourd. New York: Knopf.

Chapter Book Fiction

Anderson, L. H. (2010, 2008). Chains. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Anderson, L. H. (2010). Forge. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Curtis, C. (2007). Elijah of Buxton. New York: Scholastic.

Curtis, C. (2012). The Mighty Miss Malone. New York: Wendy Lamb Books.

Lester, J. (2005). Day of tears. New York: Jump at the Sun.

McGill, Alice. (2000).Miles’ song. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

McKissack, P. and McKissack, F. (1998). Let my people go: Bible stories told by a freeman of
color to his daughter, Charlotte, in Charlestown, South Carolina
, 1806-1816. Illus. by J.
Ransome. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Siegelson, K. (1999). In the time of drums. Ill. by B. Pinkney. New York: Jump at the Sun.

Picture Book Nonfiction

Evans, L. (2011) Underground. New York: Roaring Brook Press.

Hill, L. (2010). Dave the potter. Ill. by B. Collier. New York: Little Brown & Company.

Lasky, K. (2006). A voice of her own: The story of Phillis Wheatley, slave poet. Ill. by P. Lee.
Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.

Nelson, V. M. (2009). Bad news for outlaws: The remarkable life of Bass Reeves, U.S. marshall.
Ill. by R. G. Christie. Minneapolis, MN : Carolrhoda Books.

Woodson, J. (2005). Show way. Ill. by H. Talbot. New York: Putnam’s.

Chapter Book Nonfiction

Aronson, M. and Budhos, M. (2010). Sugar changed the world: A story of magic, spice, slavery, freedom, and science. New York: Clarion Books.

Bolden, T. (2005). Maritcha: A nineteenth-century American girl. New York: Abrams.

Bolden, T. (2001). Tell all the children our story: Memories and mementos of being young and black in America. New York: Harry Abrams.

Cox, C. (2002). Come all you brave soldiers: Blacks in the Revolutionary War. New York: Scholastic.

Fradin, D. B. (2000). Bound for the North Star: True stories of fugitive slaves. New York: Clarion Books.

Hamilton, V. (1985, 2009). The people could fly: American Black folktales. Ill. by L. Dillon and D. Dillon. New York: Knopf.

Hansen, J. and McGowan, G. (1998). Breaking ground, breaking silence: The story of New York’s African Burial Ground. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Haskins, J., Cox, C. & Wilkinson, B. (2002). Black stars of colonial times and the Revolution: African Americans who lived their dreams. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass.

McKissack, P. and McKissack, F. (1999). Black hands, white sails: The story of African-American whalers. New York: Scholastic.

Myers, W. D. (1991). Now is your time: The African-American struggle for freedom. New York: Harper Collins.

Rappaport, D. (2006). No more! Stories and songs of slave resistance. Illus. by S. Evans. Cambridge: Candlewick Press.

Mary Ann Cappiello About Mary Ann Cappiello

Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.