I’ll be kicking off the second half of the Picture Books 14:14 Challenge by looking at This Is The Rope: A Story from the Great Migration and how pattern makes the story stronger.
Title: This Is The Rope: A Story from the Great Migration
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrator: James Ransome
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013
This is the rope my grandmother found beneath an old tree a long time ago back home in South Carolina.
A girl tells the story of her family through three generations by listing the different ways her family members made use of a piece of rope. As a little girl herself, the grandmother jump-roped with it. She and her husband tied luggage to the roof of their car with it as they moved to New York City, they hung drying flowers and cloth diapers from it, and her mother, as a toddler, pulled a toy duck around with it. My favorite is when the narrator’s father teachers her to tie a sailor’s knot with it:
Two times around and pull it real tight. You want whatever you make or do in your life to last.
The refrain “This is the rope” is reminiscent of The House that Jack Built or The Napping House. In this story, the repetition works to show that even as her family moves and grows, there is consistence just in being a family. And the rope is a perfect metaphor for tying the family together even through the shifting generations.
This is the rope, threadbare and graying, that I traded with Grandma for a brand-new one.
The story ends with the narrator jumping with the new rope to a new song while her grandmother holds the weathered rope, remembering her own childhood in South Carolina. The new rope shows that family doesn’t just wear out like a rope, but continues to blossom anew through the generations. Yet the circular pattern of the story, ending with jump roping just as it began, shows again that family endures like a sailor’s knot and that the young narrator carries on the traditions of her grandmother and her mother even in a different place and a different time with a different piece of rope.