Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson.

Illustrated by Nikkolas Smith.

Other than verifying the intended age group for Born on the Water, I didn’t do any pre-reading of this story. I knew it would be a beautiful but difficult story to read with my 9-year-old son, but I wanted to experience the emotions with him in real time. The story of stealing a whole people from their home and forcing them into slavery is not a pretty tale to say the least. I knew he’d have questions, I knew he’d be confused at the cruelty of humans, and I knew we had to read this together.

A little background into why this book was so important to me.

Growing up I have always wanted to know more about my culture. I’ve never been “enough” of any culture for society to accept. Part of healing myself is engrossed in learning about our ancestors with my kids. I was either the white girl, or the Mexican girl, but never Mexican enough, and never white enough. It is my hope that my kids will receive enough information about their ancestry that they won’t be left confused or misled by societal pressure, but I digress….

Outside of a few random book-fair books, my son doesn’t seek out his own books. I order from his school flyers, I grab them at bookstores. He loves to read with me, but he’s dependent on mom bringing him the fun adventures to choose from. I chose Born on the Water to continue the conversation about his ancestors.

What is to gain from visiting these stories of the past?

It’s my belief that you have to know something is wrong in order to not repeat these mistakes. Kids see things so much clearer from adults. As expected, my son was upset that anyone would steal families and separate them. Forcing them to work against their will. Hatred is conditioned over time. It’s our job as parents to guide our kids in love and empathy. I want my son to be one of the people in the world that sees discrimination as wrong. We can’t eradicate racism if we don’t teach the future generations of how inhuman it is. We must understand the past to build a better future.

Born on the Water delivered a beautifully illustrated truth to the history of America. White people took a land from the natives for their own. They had a vision, and they used slaves to build it for them. To make this “justified” they taught themselves to believe that their slaves were animals. White people were heroes for giving them what little decency they did, like clothes, scraps, and a forced religion. There isn’t anything beautiful about that story.

The beauty of Born on the Water comes from the depiction of the people and their culture before they were stolen. It gives life to what they already had learned and developed together before 1619. Not every person who was taken survived the crossing of the ocean, whether by illness or by choice. All of them deserved better. This book will help children love and feel proud of the survivors brought to what we now know as America. We should all be proud of the people who were “Born on the Water”.

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