We envision a future where people actively work to dismantle injustices and build a more peaceful, equitable world.

Kadir Nelson: Challenging Us to Fill Our Days With Creating

Intermediate & Middle School Activity

Meet artist Kadir Nelson, author and illustrator of the 2012 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Honor Title, ‘Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans.’

Read a summary of the book

“Most folks my age and complexion don’t speak much about the past. Sometimes it’s just too hard to talk about— nothing we want to share with you young folk.” As the unnamed narrator of Kadir Nelson’s stirring work continues, she bares her heart and soul to recount the oral history that’s been passed down in her own family from pre-slavery times to the present day, and in doing so traces the history of African Americans. The narrative technique gives readers a view of history that is both sweeping and intimate. Every page of text is accompanied by a full-page, hauntingly realistic painting. Some are of well-known historical figures such as Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, and others are anonymous men and women who represent the scope of African American lives. Each one shows determination in facial expression and body posture, a resolve to move their families forward. The personal story culminates with the elderly narrator voting in 2008 for the man who would become the first African American president. © Cooperative Children’s Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin – Madison, 2012

Learn More

Listen to the Prologue and Chapter One of Heart and Soul performed by Debbie Allen. (You will need to scroll down to find the audio.) Pay attention because the narrator is “only going to but tell you this story but once!”

Watch and listen to Kadir tell about the process of writing and illustrating this history of America from the perspective of African Americans.

What surprises you about how he created this book?

Check out this April 15, 2020 CBS News interview and take in Kadir’s new work entitled ‘After the Storm!’

How is Kadir choosing to respond to the coronavirus?

View a broad selection of Kadir’s works here.

What surprises you among his subjects and the manner is which he depicts them?

Now Let’s Get to Next Steps!

Guiding questions for your reading, writing, thinking and acting:

The narrator of Heart and Soul tells of large paintings and statues in Washington DC with ‘not a black face among them.’ Who is included in your own notion of history ? Are there invisible people? Why? What stories are not included? What voices are not being heard? Why? Kadir said that he hoped that readers of Heart and Soul would be able to connect their family story with the great American story. Give it a try! Interview your parents or another adult. Ask them to tell you about a family member during an important historic moment. Ask them why they made the choices they made. Why did they choose that family member and why that moment? Then together with them consider others who were affected by that moment in history whose story doesn’t often or ever get told. You are welcome to share your writing and/or thoughts in our comment section (comments will be approved & posted within 24 yours) or on social media #socialjusticelearnanddo

In creating ‘After the Storm’ Kadir wanted to make an image that would give hope. What does ‘After the Storm’ say to you? What feelings does it evoke? Kadir challenges anyone and everyone to fill our days with creating. Take the challenge today! Gather the medium that you like best—colored pencils, markers, paint, collage materials, maybe even clay —whatever is at hand and you enjoy using! Sit down and consider how you might create an image of hope. Make it personal. Make it your own. Will it be a narrative picture? Will it be abstract? Will it include words or be three dimensional? Give yourself time for the process. Maybe you’ll take Kadir’s challenge to heart and do this kind of thing everyday? You are welcome to share your experience and thoughts about this activity in our comment section below (comments will be approved & posted within 24 yours) or on social media #socialjusticelearnanddo

We look forward to hearing from you!

Jane Addams Peace Association