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A Sweet Smell of Roses    by Angela Johnson & Eric Velasquez order for
Sweet Smell of Roses
by Angela Johnson
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

We're told that A Sweet Smell of Roses is a tribute to 'the brave boys and girls' who participated in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s. Angela Johnson's writing shows what it was like from a child's point of view, while Eric Velasquez's elegant illustrations (sketched in black and white, aside from touches of crimson on roses, on the flag, and on the ribbons of a teddy bear) show people risking everything for freedom.

The kids smell roses as they slip out of their house one morning, 'through the curb market ... to where everybody waits to march', and that smell stays with them, punctuating a day they will always remember. Dwarfed by the adults around them, they listen to Dr. King, and then they march with the others, 'Looking ahead, just like him ... Walking our way toward freedom.' In the town center, they listen to Dr. King again, and then skip home to their worried mother, full of the experience and 'Singing freedom songs along the streets.'

The starkness of the illustrations highlights the significance (and the risk) of the march these young people joined. And the touches of red emphasize the children's innocence (the ribbon on the bear), the promise of the flag, and sweet scent of freedom. A Sweet Smell of Roses is a powerful tribute to a pivotal period in U.S. history, told in a manner to which kids will relate.

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