The Story of America and African Americans

By Kadir Nelson

Balzer+Bray. $19.99. Ages 9 and up

Kadir Nelson has illustrated subjects ranging from the comic to the heroic, but his two solo projects have been on an epic scale: big books about bigger subjects. “We Are the Ship” (2008) told the story of Negro League baseball through the words of a fictional veteran player. Similarly, the narrator of his new book, “Heart and Soul,” is an elderly African American woman who has witnessed tremendous changes. Nelson’s illustrations reveal the strength behind enormous struggles.

‘Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans’ by Kadir Nelson (Balzer + Bray)

Inspired by but not confined to his own family stories, Nelson conveys how important African Americans have been to the United States from the days of slavery onward. His narrator addresses the reader as she might a young relative: “You pay attention, honey, because I’m only going to tell you this story but once.” She begins the personal part of the narrative with Pap, her only African-born grandparent. He fought in the Civil War and was part of the Great Migration; subsequent generations fought in World War II and became Freedom Riders. Bringing history close to home, Nelson presents landmark events as part of a family story and heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr. as revered and beloved relatives.

Abby McGanney Nolan