This Is the Rope tells a story that will stay with the reader, along with the beautiful paintings, long after finishing this picture book written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by James Ransome. Woodson refers to this book as a “fictive memoir” on her website (Jacqueline Woodson/This is the Rope). This story resonates with readers as a tale that spans multiple generations, linked by a rope that moves with the family over the years. The rope is both a link to the past lives in the South and also the opportunity and life that awaits in the North. It is hope, love and family.
During the Great Migration, millions of families moved from the South to the cities in the North, from the early 1900s through the 1970s. Woodson dedicates this book to the “more than 6 million African Americans who left the unjust conditions of the South for a better life in the North….My mother and grandmother were among them. I thank you all for your courage and for making a way out of no way.”
Woodson’s mother moved to New York City in 1968, and her siblings moved as well during the same time period. Woodson grew up in New York City, but also traveled back and forth between NYC and South Carolina for many years as a young girl. This experience and the courage of her mother and grandmother to make this move toward freedom and opportunity in the North inspired Woodson to write the story of a rope and a young girl.
The rope is discovered many years ago by a young girl in South Carolina, who first used the rope to jump rope. Later, when the young girl was a mother, the rope tied down the items she owned on top of the family car as her family drove north to New York City. The rope was used as a clothes line to dry her daughter’s diapers and clothes, then to pull toys, to skip rope with friends outside their home in Brooklyn, to tie down suitcases on top of the car as the young woman (the narrator’s mother) drives to college. Years later, after the mother has finished college and now has a daughter of her own, the young girl telling the story of the rope uses the rope for her own games, jumping rope and finally trading the old rope for a new one from her Grandmother — who was once the young girl in South Carolina, skipping rope amidst the sweet smelling pines of the South.
The story has a circular nature, and one that provides readers with the framework of the Great Migration north while focusing on one family and the generations whose lives are forever changed by the decision to move toward freedom and opportunity.
“This Is the Rope is a work of fiction. The rope we brought to this ‘new country’ was Hope.
It remains with us.”
For more information about the Great Migration, here are a couple of good websites:
Novels to pair with This Is the Rope
- The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis
- Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
- Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
- Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia
- One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
- The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson
Love Jacqueline Woodson? Check out Brown Girl Dreaming too!