Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans Book Poster Image
Beautifully illustrated account of African American history.

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Kids say

age 10+
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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Educates children on the history of African American struggles and triumphs from slavery through the civil rights movement. Children learn how and why enslaved workers were brought to America, how the institution helped build the country's wealth, and how throughout America's history the contributions of African Americans often have represented a turning point in America's success.

Positive Messages

African American history is about overcoming hardship. Learning about it helps instill in children the importance of social and economic justice, and offers lessons about perseverance that can be applicable in many areas of life. The book also highlights the positive contributions of African Americans that are often left out of the history books.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Positive role models abound, from well-known figures such as Fredrick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., and Abraham Lincoln, to average Americans who stood up for each other and helped each other through their struggles. 


Mention of violence -- whippings, beatings, lynchings, people being assassinated -- but these acts are not explicitly described.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this in-depth picture book brings up the important topics of slavery, Jim Crow laws, gender and racial inequality, and economic disadvantage throughout the history of America, with a keen focus on African American history. Children will better understand the economic benefits as well as the harsh realities of slavery and see the evolution of America's relationship with its African American citizens. It will spark questions and discussion regarding many topics still relevant today.

User Reviews

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Kid, 12 years old December 2, 2011

Will get older kids thinking, younger kids may only enjoy the gorgeous artwork.

Heart & Soul is an interesting look at American history from the point of view of the Africans brought over as slaves. It covers the Revolutionary war... Continue reading

What's the story?

Kadir Nelson tells the story of the Black American experience throughout America's history. It covers the horrors of slavery, the drumbeats of war, the rise of Jim Crow laws and the resolve, determination and strength of a people determined to be a part of the country they helped built. The book explains the socio-economic reasons for slavery, Jim Crow, and the northern migration, all through a first-person narrative.

Is it any good?

Author/illustrator Nelson weaves a compelling, complex, and deeply personal historical account of the Black American experience in HEART AND SOUL, which won a 2012 Coretta Scott King Award. He creates an epic narrative that shows the birth of a nation juxtaposed against the history of a people who were as responsible for supporting it as anyone else. His compelling first-person perspective combined with his absolutely stunning illustrations makes this book a must-have for any family's library. It will bring up questions of race, history, and the complexities of American society -- and that's a good thing.

Kids will enjoy the easy storytelling, and parents will appreciate how comprehensive it is, yet age appropriate.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about socio-economic inequality. Why is it important to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to pursue education and positions within American institutions? What does it say about America when this isn't possible?

  • Many times throughout history -- not just American history -- people have had to stand up for their beliefs, even when it wasn't popular. Why do you think it's important for humans to do this? Have you ever supported a cause?  

  • Take turns imagining not being able to do day-to-day things because of your race or gender. How would you feel if you couldn't go to school because you were right-handed? What would you think if someone passed a law barring boys from being able to play at your favorite park?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history

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