Books

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Strange Fruit, Volume II’ by Joel Christian Gill

c.2018, Fulcrum Books
$19.95 ($26.95 Canada)
108 pages

Apples, bananas, cherries and oranges.

Tasty things, available from an appropriate tree, perhaps even one in your backyard. But what’s the story about them? Who was the first brave soul to take a chance and take a bite? In the new book “Strange Fruit, Volume II” by Joel Christian Gill, you’ll see that some histories remain hidden on the vine.

Throughout history, a lot of untold things happened that deserve to be remembered and retold. That’s especially true of Black history and in this book, author Joel Christian Gill offers up a few tales of inspiration and amazement.

Take, for instance, the story of Stagecoach Mary Fields.

At a time when the average man was not quite five-and-a-half-feet tall, Mary stood six feet in height and weighed 200 pounds. It’s been said that she never backed down from work nor gunman; she was brave, she loved baseball, and when the Postal Service needed a stagecoach driver for a dangerous route, Mary literally fought to get the job.

And then there’s the tale of Blind Tom Wiggins.

Born into slavery, Tom was without sight from his very first day. He was also autistic and because of that, his master didn’t think much about him — until the day that Tom sat down at a piano and played beautiful music without having received any lessons at all. Alas, his owner tricked Tom’s mother into signing away his life, and though Tom later became famous, he was never given his freedom.

On the other side of the world, Millie and Christine McCoy were perfectly willing to speak up for themselves. Also born into slavery, in 1852, the girls were conjoined at the pelvis and were exhibited in Paris as “freaks” that could sing; their managers, in fact, called them “The Two-Headed Nightingale.” They performed beautifully, and at age 15, they used their voices to announce their decision that their performances would no longer include “embarrassing public medical examinations.” At the height of the Civil War, the enslaved girls took complete control of their lives!

Have you ever thought about the parts of history you might have missed? A small story here, a single person there, things you might like to know about? If you’ve wondered, then you can stop now: “Strange Fruit Volume II” helps fill you in.

With a title based on a Billie Holliday song about lynching, you can bet that the tales inside this book — most of which come from the late-1800s — are inspirational in the courage shown by their subjects. Author Joel Christian Gill brings eight individuals to light, telling about them with sparse colors, illustrations and few words; despite that the stories begin awfully abruptly, that irresistible artwork makes this book kid-friendly. A bibliography offers a path toward more information.

While adults can (and will) surely enjoy this book and may learn a thing or two, it’s really meant for those 11 and up. If a quick-to-read curiosity-satisfier is exactly what’s needed for home or school, “Strange Fruit, Volume II” is peachy.

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