Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Great Migration, Journey to the North

Eloise Greenfield, The Great Migration, Journey to the North, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers 2011

Eloise Greenfield, winner of the 11th NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry, and award-winning artist and writer Jan Spivey Gilchrist have collaborated on a book of poems inspired by a little talked about period of American history. Train travel is almost foreign to today’s children. Yet a train ticket led to a better life in the North for hundreds of thousands of African American children in the early part of the 20th century. The Great Migration, Journey to the North chronicles such a trip in nine poems. Collage artwork using archival material lends historical authenticity to the collection. An introduction tells Greenfield’s own story of her family’s migration.

Greenfield’s free verse lets us witness a family’s goodbyes – goodbyes to the land, to inequality and to the Ku Klux Klan.

Goodbye, crazy signs, telling me
where I can go, what I can do.
I hear that train whistling
my name. Don’t worry, train,
I’m ready.

The poems book us a seat on the overnight trip with all its uncertainties.

I hope they’re right.
I think they’re right.
I know they’re right.

Finally, we arrive in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Washington or another northern city where

…the people keep coming,
keep coming, keep on coming,
filling up the cities with
their hopes and their courage.
And their dreams.

The rhythm in each of Greenfield’s poems lets us hear the click clack of train wheels on the track. We feel the hope in the hearts of the travelers. Gilchrist’s haunting illustrations combine layers of artwork and archival photos. The results were achieved through labor intensive methods without computer graphics. They draw us into the poems as if we are watching a documentary. One moving illustration plants grainy photos of African Americans in a field like ghostly witnesses to the train’s passing.

The Great Migration, Journey to the North is a stirring account in verse of a period that opened up opportunities for America’s Black citizens and changed American history. The jacket flap says the audience is Ages 3-8. The subject matter is more suited for an older audience, such as Grades 2-5.

The NCTE has this profile about Greenfield.

Gilchrist's profile is on the Herman Agency's website.

Steven Withrow interviews Eloise Greenfield at Poetry at Play.


  1. We just got this book in our school library-beautiful as are all books by Eloise Greenfield. Love 'filling up the cities with/their hopes and their courage./And their dreams. I also like that students now have a wonderful story to help them learn about this important part in our history. I agree that it is for older students.

  2. I am really feeling the train in these lines. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Hi Joyce, im currently compiling a list of books that we will be featuring for Black History Month. This sounds like a perfect book to add to my ever-growing list. Thanks for sharing!

  4. This is an important book! The Great Migration must not be forgotten!


Comments welcome.