CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 40. . . .June 17, 2016
In A Change of Heart, readers learn of African American Lanier Phillips and his struggle to belong. Lanier grew up in Georgia in the 1930s. As a child, he experienced awful examples of racism. Times were tough, and Lanier became bitter and resentful. When he turned 18, he decided to join the navy. The Second World War had just broken out, and he thought that he would “escape the racism in Georgia”. To his dismay, he quickly learned that black sailors were not treated the same as white sailors. He wasn’t permitted to eat in the same dining room as white sailors, and he had to eat his meals in a pantry. He washed dishes and clothes and shone shoes. This wasn’t the type of work he thought he would be doing as a sailor.
One night, Lanier was on a ship called the Truxum bound for Newfoundland. While out on the ocean, the ship got caught in the middle of a storm. Luckily Lanier made it to shore and was welcomed by the hospitable people of Newfoundland. When getting cleaned up by Violet, he realized that she had never seen a black man before. She continued to scrub at his skin, thinking that the oil had penetrated his skin. ‘“It won’t come off, ma’am’ Lanier said shyly. ‘It’s the colour of my skin.’” Despite his skin colour, however, Violet offered her home to Lanier. The kindness that was shown by the people of Newfoundland helped Lanier find his faith in humanity.
When I was a young girl, I remember hearing tales of this story. It wasn’t until I was studying for my undergraduate degree in History at Memorial University that I learned what happened just miles from St. Lawrence. To some, the part of the story where a white person had not seen a black person may seem farfetched. However, Newfoundland continues to be a place where there is not a lot of racial diversity.
The illustrations are stunning. Bennett Banks uses oils that not only accompany the story but make readers feel what Lanier is feeling. In the first half of the story, the illustrator only uses dark and dull colours. This colour choice helps to convey Lanier’s internal turmoil. After Lanier visits Newfoundland, his tone changes and so do the illustrations. Bennett Banks creates images with bright hues of yellow and blue that mirror his new outlook on life.
A Change of Heart will add a lot of value to any school library, public library or home library. Students will learn about many aspects of the past: history of the American south, Jim Crowe laws and Newfoundland before Confederation. They will also learn the important lesson of what it means to be resentful and how to overcome it.
Courtney Penney is the Regional Librarian for Central Division with Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries. She lives in Gander, NL.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.