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This fictionalized account of the first Memorial Day (originally known as Decoration Day) relates the story of 10-year-old Eli, whose community recently has been liberated from slavery at the end of the Civil War in 1865. During the war, Union soldiers who had fought the Confederate Army had been imprisoned on the grounds and building of a wealthy racecourse in Charleston, S.C. Many soldiers died in horrific conditions.  

To honor the men who had fought to liberate them, recently freed men volunteered to make a respectable cemetery for the deceased Union soldiers on the grounds of the racecourse. On May 1, 1865, 10,000 formerly enslaved people, abolitionists, and other supporters gave their respects to their liberators by singing freedom songs and covering the graves in flowers. In this compelling narrative, Eli and his family are among them: “After the last word is sung, quiet comes. Our feet shushing across the sandy soil. We circle the fresh dirt mounds, with sweet-smelling petals of rose, lilac, and jasmine swirling to the ground. Thousands of hands sprinkle thousands of spring blossoms. The graves become a bed of petals and tears.”   

Eli is comforted by what he witnesses: “My heart rests easy now. Me, Mama, and Papa can’t never be sold away no more, and I’m getting my schooling—its own freedom, like Mama said. So my insides feel all good.”  

Renowned illustrator Floyd Cooper’s emotive, larger-than-life depictions of Eli and his community complement author Leah Henderson’s stirring, sensitive story. By sharing this book with children, Christian parents and caregivers have an opportunity to talk about how all people bear God’s image and are equal before him. (Harry N. Abrams)

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