A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Barracoon is the oral history of an African man brought to the U.S. to be enslaved 50 years after importing slaves was made illegal. He was uniquely positioned to describe the entire journey to then-anthropologist Zora Neal Hurston: life in Africa, capture, the journey across the ocean, enslavement, emancipation, and life from Reconstruction through Jim Crow. It also provides an introduction to Zora Neale Hurston, one of the most influential Black American writers of the 20th century.
The bonds of community and memory can get you through the most difficult times. Empathy can draw out people stories; show you're willing to care for the person and their words, and you'll get their stories. Your story matters, and can change how history is understood, so always tell your story.
Positive Role Models
The two main characters are each role models in different ways. Cudjo Lewis demonstrates perseverance, respect for his ancestors, and the capacity to forgive even horrible atrocities against him and his family. Zora Neale Hurston, the anthropologist who seeks out Cudjo and takes down his story displays empathy, compassion, and excellent communication skills.
The theme of this book is the African and African-American experiences during and after slavery in the U.S. It also provides an introduction to Zora Neale Hurston, one of the most influential Black American writers. Historian Ibram X. Kendi adapted Hurston's work for a younger audience, making this critical history accessible to middle grade readers.
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Violence & Scariness
There are many mentions of cruelty to humans and wild animals, both in Africa and in the U.S. This includes killing animals, beating people, and murdering people. There are also a few scary accidents described. Cudjo describes the torture and fear he and other captured Africans experienced on the Middle Passage (the voyage across the ocean) -- being fed very little food and water, being forced to lie down under deck for weeks on end, then being forced to walk around on deck so as not to lose the ability to walk, sickness, then being separated and sold away to different slave owners after the 70-day journey.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
There is a brief mention of people getting drunk on whiskey, in the context of condemning that behavior.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Barracoon: Adapted for Young Readers is a middle grade biography adapted by Ibram X. Kendi (Stamped (For Kids): Racism, Antiracism, and You) of Zora Neale Hurston's Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo." In 1927 and 1928, Hurston, a writer and anthropologist, interviewed Cudjo Lewis, a man who was brought to the U.S. from Africa on the last known slave ship, 50 years after importing slaves was made illegal. Her record of his story and of the relationship the two of them developed was published in 2018. There are many mentions of cruelty to humans and wild animals, both in Africa and in including the killing of animals, beating people, and murdering people. There are also a few scary accidents described. Descriptions of the Middle Passage (the voyage across the ocean) include crew denying African captives adequate food and water, forcing them to lie down under deck for weeks at a time, and sickness. There is a brief mention of people getting drunk on whiskey, in the context of condemning that behavior.
Is It Any Good?
This poignant book reveals the personal and collective toll of U.S. slavery on Black people and families. In Barracoon: Adapted for Young Readers by Ibram X. Kendi, readers are shown that slavery is not really so far behind us. Cudjo Lewis was a real person, but he also serves as a symbol for many generations and Black experiences, from his brief, happy childhood in Africa to life on U.S. soil through slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow. Readers unfamiliar with written African American English may need to adjust to reading Cudjo's voice, but with Hurston's explanation, the dialect is accessible and quickly picked up. Kendi preserves Zora Neale Hurston's wise choice of structure in Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" -- Cudjo's story is embedded in the account of their relationship, which feels like a young person listening to stories at a beloved elder's knee. Though there's much sadness in this book, there's also remarkable resilience and stark proof that stories connect people to history and one another in profound and important ways.
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