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Book Review: "Born on the Water" by Nikole Hannah Jones and Renee Watson

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

“Born on the Water” by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and award winning author Renée Watson is a poetic free verse telling of Black legacy, struggle, resistance and resolve in the United States.

Written as part of the 1619 Project, it tells of a young girl who is given a family tree assignment in class. She is frustrated that she can only go back three generations because she’s unknowing of what came... before.

Her grandmother then gives her a lesson of self that she’ll never forget. She tells her the African American story of a people who were “born on the water,” descendants of those who refused to die in the Middle Passage. But Grandma doesn’t start there. Her story begins with a people who had “a home, a place, a land long before they were sold.” “Their story is our story.” “Their story does not begin with whips and chains.”

This book is so beautifully written. It’s illustrations are dramatic, somber and explosive all at the same time. Combined, they tell stories of a people with hands, hearts and minds that “had a knowing” of how to cook and craft, learn, create and love. They danced and had a rhythm that was one with nature and the ancestors. They had a rich culture that existed LONG before they were...stolen and forced from their land. “Ours is not an immigration story.”

Grandma stresses that our story doesn’t end there. These people, sold like cattle, “became one people, a new people.” Remembering who they were, they planted seeds, dreams and hope, willing themselves to keep living... living.” With this resolve of “imagination, determination and faith” they learned how to survive in a new strange land. These people “born on the water” built a legacy of people who “survived, fought and built America.”

This powerful book written for ages 7-10 is a must have for EVERY child. Every culture and ethnicity in America has a tale and this one most poignantly speaks to the African American tale whose identity, culture and legacy is woven into the fabric of this country. What a lesson for children of every culture and ethnicity to learn!

In the end, the young girl feels proud of her heritage and empowered by her grandmother’s story. Needless to say, any child, a descendant of those “born on the water”, will too.

Run, jump, sprint to get this book!

Purchase a copy on Amazon: here.

Or at where a portion of all sales is dedicated to keeping independently owned and operated bookstores open.

“The 1619 Project is The New York Times Magazine’s award-winning reframing of American history that placed slavery and its continuing legacy at the center of our national narrative. The project, which was initially launched in August of 2019, offered a revealing new origin story for the United States, one that helped explain not only the persistence of anti-Black racism and inequality in American life today, but also the roots of so much of what makes the country unique.” Learn more at

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