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Flying Among the Stars in Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach

“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?” – Frida Kahlo

In continuation of our Black History Month celebration here at Gathering Books, I bring you one of my most recent, most beautiful picture book discoveries: Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold. Urban dictionary defines tar beach as the roof of a building that is usually flat than sloped, and can be found generally in a large city.

There are a lot of books that can be featured for Black History Month but I was rather “picky” this time around. Like Myra, I made sure to browse for books that fit this year’s theme on Black Women in American Culture and History. My first Black History Month contribution centers on a little girl, but it is the author-illustrator herself, Faith Ringgold, that has made a great impact on American Culture and History.

Looking at the World Through the Eyes of a Child. The female protagonist in Tar Beach is eight-year-old Cassie Louise Lightfoot, a freedom fighter by heart. Cassie lives with her Mommy, her Daddy, and her baby brother Be Be in an apartment building where the George Washington Bridge is visible.

The hood. Harlem, New York. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

The George Washington Bridge, known to the locals as GW Bridge. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Cassie narrates that the stars fell down and lifted her up above the George Washington Bridge. From there, it becomes a series of flight in which Cassie flies over certain places and claims them as her own so her family can enjoy simple privileges that they don’t have access to.

I can fly – yes, fly. Me, Cassie Louise Lightfoot, only eight years old and in the third grade, and I can fly. That means I am free to go whenever I want for the rest of my life…

…It’s very easy, anyone can fly. All you need is somewhere to go that you can’t get to any other way. The next thing you know, you’re flying among the stars.

A story told in a child’s point of view is always refreshing. For Cassie Lightfoot, the world is her oyster. She can be whomever she wants, do whatever she wants, and own just about anything she wants. As a whole, Tar Beach is a bittersweet tale of a little girl who only wants the best for her family. Combining simple language with stunning visual art, Tar Beach makes for a heartfelt and compelling read.

Faith Ringgold’s Story Quilt and the Rich Heritage of African-American Quilting. Tar Beach is the first of five story quilts in Faith Ringgold’s “Woman on a Bridge” series. It is found in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.  In the creation of Tar Beach, there were allusions to African-American folktale.

The story quilt. Literally a story in a quilt. I don't mind having one of those!

Cassie, the narrator of Tar Beach, dreams of being free to go wherever she wants for the rest of her life. Flying is how she will achieve her dream, echoing an important motif in African-American literature, in which slaves told of “flying” to freedom as wish fulfillment or as a metaphor for escaping from slavery.

Faith Ringgold’s story quilt is an embodiment of African American culture. As I was reading through bits and pieces of the African-American quilt making tradition, I was reminded of our own weaving tradition in the Philippines.

The T’boli weavers come from an indigenous tribe in South Cotabato in the Philippines. They are known for their T’nalak, a fabric made from a complex method of cloth making that uses bamboo and wooden loom. While Faith Ringgold’s story quilt speaks of African-American culture, the T’nalak consists of patterns that are conceptualized through dreams, hence the T’boli are known as “dreamweavers.”

In addition to the T’nalak, I was also reminded of the three women who wove the first Philippine flag. Aren’t women just awesome???

A T'nalak weaver in action.

Three Women Sewing the Philippine Flag, a sculpture by Philippine national artist Napoleon Abueva.

Additional Resources for Educators. I was fortunate to find enough resources for teachers to use when they present Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach to class. Here is a list of the ones I found. If you know of any additional resource, please feel free to share it in the comments box below.

  • Masterpiece activity by Scholastic – Contains background information of Faith Ringgold and the story quilt, and a few questions and activities.
  • Teacher’s guide by Random House – Includes pre-reading activity, thematic connections, interdisciplinary connections, and activity for music, storytelling, and drama.
  • Classroom resources by the International Reading Association – Includes three 45-minute sessions with various activities.
  • Art lesson plan by the Incredible @rt Department – Instructs students on how to make quilt story blocks inspired by the book.
  • Audiovisual study guide by ArtGirlJan – Interactive video intended for elementary art.

About the Author-Illustrator

The beautiful and celebrated Faith Ringgold. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Faith Ringgold, began her artistic career more than 35 years ago as a painter. Today, she is best known for her painted story quilts — art that combines painting, quilted fabric and storytelling. She has exhibited in major museums in the USA, Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. She is in the permanent collection of many museums including the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Solomon R. Guggenheim MuseumThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Museum of Modern Art. Her first book, Tar Beach was a Caldecott Honor Book and winner of the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration, among numerous other honors. She has written and illustrated eleven children’s books. She has received more than 75 awards, fellowships, citations and honors. (Taken from author’s website.) If you wish to know more about her, you may visit her website.

Tar Beach
By Faith Ringgold
Reading Level: Ages 4 and up
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Crown Publishers, Inc. (1991)
Book borrowed from the Chula Vista Public Library.
Book photos taken by me.

1992 Caldecott Honor Book
1992 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award
AWB Reading Challenge Update: 14 of 35

Picture Book Challenge Update: 25 of 120

Caldecott Challenge Update: 3 of 24

PoC Reading Challenge Update: 3 of 25

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About Fats Suela

Cloud chaser. Sky walker. Tale weaver. Smile painter. Dream believer. Heart stealer. Book gatherer. Star-child of the universe.

15 comments on “Flying Among the Stars in Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach

  1. Hi baby girl, this is the first time that I’ve heard about Tar Beach and even Faith Ringgold – this looks like my kind of picture book! I love how you weaved/quilted those images together along with your thoughtful review. You’re also getting the knack of including teacher resources, attagirl! So nice! :)

    • Why, thank you! I learn from the greats (points at you). Hehe. My first time hearing about Faith Ringgold, too, so it’s really such a treat. It’s nice to include resources when they are available. Glad I found a bunch for this book!

  2. This was a lovely review, Fats, of a new story to me. I was very interested to read of the quilting heritage in both the African-American and Filipino cultures. Story weaving is lovely!

    • Hi Joanna! Thank you for the lovely comment. I find story quilts unique and interesting. Glad I was able to share with you some bits from my culture. :)

  3. Enjoyed your review, Fats! What an extraordinary woman Faith Ringgold was. Never heard of her before. Her quilts are magnificent and full of the African-American spirit! A beautiful review!

    • Hello Ms. Tilton! Thank you. Yes, Faith Ringgold is truly extraordinary. I would love to see her Woman on a Bridge series. As it turned out, it’s a series of paintings that depict African-American culture. :)

  4. This is such a beautiful book, one of my favorites among ‘quilting’ books. And I love hearing about the T’boli ‘dream’ weavers and their T’nalak. Because of what you’ve said, I wonder if there’s a connection to the Australian aborigines with their dream time?

    • Hello Linda! It’s my first time hearing about the Dreamtime. I searched it on the Internet and found it very interesting. Like you, I wondered the same thing. It’s always nice to draw connections between cultures, don’t you think?

  5. [...] I introduced Faith Ringgold and her story quilt in her award-winning picture book, Tar Beach.  Today, as we continue to celebrate the rich African-American culture for Black History Month, I [...]

  6. Faith is one of the reasons why I wanted to go into cultural arts. So amazing.

  7. [...] I was also glad to note that he recommended a book that Fats has already reviewed here in GatheringBooks: Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold. [...]

  8. [...] I have a growing collection of Madonna’s children’s books (simply because I adore Madonna and I find her brilliant) and so I bought Mr. Peabody’s Apples; Fables by Arnold Lobel; More More More and the Baby by Vera B. Williams (recommended by Leonard Marcus during the recent AFCC in Singapore); and Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold (which was reviewed by Fats here). [...]

  9. [...] to most of you as one of the GatheringBooks ladies, the lovely Fats Suela has already reviewed Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold (Caldecott Honor, 1992) as well as Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine and Kadir [...]

  10. […] Faith Ringgold book for the win! I loved her since I read Tar Beach, which I reviewed two years ago! Her story is as her art. Jane Yolen’s Firebird is something that Iphigene might like since […]

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