It’s hard to believe that Jacqueline Woodson and James Ransome have not worked together since 2002’s Visiting Day. Both have written many books about African-American experiences and been honored with many of the same awards, in particular the Coretta Scott King Award. Now they have joined forces once more with This Is the Rope, in which Ransome’s rich oil paintings complement Woodson’s gentle story of one family and their move north from South Carolina.
Like so many families before them, this family is heading to better opportunities, but they are forever joined to the South. The story is tied together with the image of an unusual keepsake: a rope that was found “a long time ago, back home in South Carolina.”
The narrator’s grandmother is shown as a little girl, awash in the yellow sky and ground of her childhood. Though she eventually seeks a better place to live during the Great Migration, as a little girl, she is well cared for. Her mother hangs wash on the line, there are chickens in the yard and her home is inviting. Her fuchsia dress bounces as she skips rope. Soon the rope finds new uses: tying luggage down on the roof of a station wagon bound for New York City, hanging flowers for drying, as a clothesline for diapers, pulling a toy duck, and on to the present, where it lives on as a jump rope today.
Ransome’s work adds much to this simple but important story. He includes so many small details that will resonate with grandparents and great-grandparents as they read to their little ones: the dashiki-clad mother with a stroller in New York, the chubby baby in a cloth diaper, the stack of Ebony and Jet magazines, white socks and Converse sneakers, Prince and Keith Haring posters on the wall, the minivan and the large family at a reunion in the park.
No matter how styles might change, one thing remains the same. This is a family with a rich history in love, born in the hot sun of South Carolina and united by memories of one simple artifact: a rope.
Families of all backgrounds will find much to love in Woodson and Ransome’s latest collaboration.