A Crown of Stories: The Life and Language of Beloved Writer Toni Morrison

Image of A Crown of Stories: The Life and Language of Beloved Writer Toni Morrison
Release Date: 
April 2, 2024
Quill Tree Books
Reviewed by: 

Toni Morrison was the first black editor in publishing, first Black female winner of the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes, author of Beloved, and all-around amazing person. She began with nothing but a solid family, a mom who sang to her, a grandfather who fiddled for her, and a house filled with books that taught her to read by first grade. “Before long, you join in the telling stories and fall under the spell of the spoken word.”

Weatherford paints a picture with her words and addresses Toni in second person:  You tell a story by “listening to your surroundings . . . to the roar of the steel mill . . . to your father leaving and coming home late after working two extra jobs . . . to the wind for cold snaps off Lake Erie.”

The bold art is both acrylic and oil paint, collage and stencils. The colors are rich jewel tones, not a white background in the whole book, except one white box of words on the Richard III page.

The brown paper bag test is mentioned but not explained (the test was used to determine what privileges an individual could have; only those with a skin color that matched or was lighter than a brown paper bag were allowed admission or membership privileges (Wikipedia)). 

A great line regarding Toni’s time at college is “when mail comes from home, you listen for coins and cans of tuna and sardines inside care packages your mother sends from the tips she earns working in an amusement park’s restroom. That is how love sounds.” And regarding books in the house: “you devour them like Sunday supper.”

One page explains that Toni listened to the radio and heard a 15-minute story about a girl who stopped believing in God because “her prayer for blue eyes went unanswered.” Later Toni wrote The Bluest Eye, taken from that girl’s story.

The publisher says this book is for four to eight year olds, but it skews much older and will be used by higher grades as an introduction to Toni Morrison, her real name Chloe. Even the line “a pen will be your sword” will have to be explained to young children.

Morrison acted in plays, became homecoming queen, went to college, wrote and edited and became a college professor. She met President Barack Obama but didn’t remember what he said to her.

The backmatter includes an author’s note, timeline, bibliography, and photo credits (all photos look like paintings).

The vocabulary is advanced in places with the use of words like: testament, laurels, bask, garner, compile, conjure, lackluster, artifacts, pull no punches, sagas, and biblical.

A Crown of Stories belongs in every classroom, from first and second grades up to high school humanities/history class. That’s the beauty of a 48-page book. It looks so simple, yet it can be packed with stuff that leads the reader to other stuff, looking up things not explained, like Pulitzer, Nobel, paper bag test, The Bluest Eye, Beloved, and all authors whose work Toni Morrison brought to publication.