Ellen’s Broom and Social Justice
I was honored when Peter Marino asked if I’d like to write about the connection between my picture book, Ellen’s Broom, and social justice for my blog tour stop at The Pirate Tree. One of the most disturbing wrongs of slavery was the forced separation of families. In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs describes the pain enslaved mothers felt on heartbreak day: “To the slave mother, New Year’s day comes laden with peculiar sorrows. She sits on her cold cabin floor, watching the children who may all be torn from her the next morning; and often does she wish that she and they might die before the day dawns.”
Heartbreak came too in knowing that their marriages had no legal protection. Some slave narratives mention jumping a broom as a way to signify leaping into life together. But that joy was mixed with the anguish of knowing they could be sold away from each other whenever the owner desired.
It is out of that history that Ellen’s Broom was born. Illustrated by Daniel Minter and published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, the story pays tribute to families who finally got a small piece of their due.
Set during Reconstruction, the book opens with the announcement in church that marriages of formerly enslaved people will now be made legal. This brings tears and thunderous applause. It comes too late for people who search heartbroken for loved ones after slavery ends. But for these families, together when freedom came, it gives them a measure of hope that a better life is on the way – a day when they will never be torn apart again.
Young Ellen knows this announcement is a big deal, but she doesn’t understand what all of it means. At home in their cabin, Mama and Papa share the significance with her and her siblings. It’s an occasion for reflection and celebration.
When Ellen is entrusted with bringing the broom on the journey to register Mama and Papa’s marriage, it’s to make sure the story of what they survived is not forgotten. And indeed Ellen doesn’t disappoint, even reminding Papa that it’s a memory to preserve: “Mama always says the broom is part of us too.”
I hope that when children and adults read Ellen’s Broom they feel the love that flows through the family. It’s an unshakeable bond that carried them through the shackles of slavery and into the promise of the future.
Kelly Starling Lyons is a children’s book author whose mission is to transform moments, memories and history into stories of discovery. Learn more about Ellen’s Broom and her other titles at her website, www.kellystarlinglyons.com.