WOW Review: Volume XVI, Issue 2

A black woman in a red dress speaks before a crowd of people.Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement
Written by Angela Joy
Illustrated by Janelle Washington
Roaring Book Press, 2022, 60 pp (unpaged)
ISBN: 978-1250220950

The story of Emmett Till’s life and the impact of his mother’s stance is encapsulated within this powerful narrative, both visually and verbally. This biography is like no other as it highlights a story untold. Mamie Till-Mobley, Emmett’s mother, takes a road less traveled by choosing to be brave and heralding the Civil Rights Movement through her decision to get her son’s body back to the North and into the forefront of the American visual field. Her decision was a galvanizing event for the Civil Rights Movement. Even though she knew what had happened and how hard it would be to see the deformed body of her son, she did not back away from the truth of the event that took her son away from her forever. Her words lend credence to the narrative of her life where she takes the harder path to speak truth to power and fight oppression: “Let the people see what I have seen. We have averted our eyes far too long. Everybody needs to know what happened to Emmett Till.” Mamie Mobley’s strength of character overcame everything that hit her in life. With each blow she got up and moved on to reach academic and personal heights.

The narrative exhibits the life of mother and son and their close bond, which is both physical and emotional. The first double spread opens the story of the death of Emmett with an image in silhouette and with the words, “the sheriff set out to dig a grave that day, to hide the crime in the mud of Mississippi, where no one would see the boy’s suffering. But Mamie said, ‘No. You send my son home.'” The choice of words and their echoing repetition adds to the story and grief felt by the reader and the author alike. Words such as “bruised, scared, swollen” for Emmett when he is born are repeated when Mamie sees her dead child and are simultaneously thoughtful and thought provoking.

The lyrical text adds to the strength of the visual elements that transport the reader to another dimension where history meets reality. With Emmett’s passing on August 31, 1955, until the time of her own death in 2003, Mamie struggled to tell her story and, in her passing, left a legacy that mothers of black and brown children can draw on as they talk and prepare their children for what they may face one day. The brilliance of the story is the weaving of the old and the new, the past and the present. This book has strong back matter that speaks to and reinforces the research done by the author and the illustrator along with a timeline of events.

There are other high quality tasteful books that speak to African American legacy and history. Several that would pair well with Choosing Brave are Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin (2022), Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford and Floyd Cooper (2021), An American Story by Kwame Alexander and Dare Coulter (2023), There was a Party for Langston by Jason Reynolds, Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey (2023), and The Spirit of Harriet Tubman: Awakening from the Underground by Spring Washam (2023).

This book is a must read for all ages. It has won multiple, well deserved, prestigious awards. It was named a Caldecott Honor Book, a Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Honor and an Orbis Pictus Honor Book. It won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for Illustrations, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and the Walter Dean Myers Award.

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Angela Joy graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Minnesota. She attended New York University and Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. Angela traveled abroad extensively as a background vocalist, also working in television and movie soundtracks. She now lives in southern California with her family. Her choice of subject matter and her meticulous research juxtaposes with the lyrical and poetic text to make the narrative of Mamie’s life come across seamlessly.

The remarkable illustrator, Janelle Washington, is a self-taught paper cut artist from Virginia. Her work is displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, and the Downing-Gross Community Arts Center in Newport News, Virginia. She is also a member of The Guild of American Papercutters. Choosing Brave is her first picturebook. As an expert in cut paper art, she created the images within this book by adding layers of white, blue, and red to her cut paper images. Her expressive artistic style impacts the visual elements needed for the story.

Seemi Aziz, University of Arizona, Tucson

© 2023 by Seemi Aziz

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WOW Review, Volume XVI, Issue 2 by Worlds of Words is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on work by Seemi Aziz at

WOW review: reading across cultures
ISSN 2577-0527