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Fortune's Bones: The Manumission Requiem (Coretta Scott King Author Honor Books) Hardcover – November 1, 2004


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Fortune's Bones: The Manumission Requiem (Coretta Scott King Author Honor Books) + Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery (The John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture)
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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 6 Up–This requiem honors a slave who died in Connecticut in 1798. His owner, a doctor, dissected his body, boiling down his bones to preserve them for anatomy studies. The skeleton was lost and rediscovered, then hung in a local museum until 1970, when it was removed from display. The museum began a project in the 1990s that uncovered the skeleton's provenance, created a new exhibit, and led to the commissioning of these six poems. The selections, which incorporate elements of a traditional requiem as well a New Orleans jazz funeral, arc from grief to triumph. A preface lays out the facts of Fortune's life, followed by "Dinah's Lament," in which his wife mourns the husband whose bones she is ordered to dust. Other pieces are in the voices of Fortune's owner, his descendants, workers, and museum visitors. The penultimate "Not My Bones," sung by Fortune, states, "What's essential about you/is what can't be owned." Each page of verse faces a green page containing text and full-color archival graphics that lay out the facts of Fortune's story. This volume sets history and poetry side by side and, combined with the author's personal note on inspirations, creates a unique amalgam that can be confusing at first. Subsequently, however, the facts inform the verse and open up a full appreciation of its rich imagery and rhythmic, lyrical language. The book brings the past to life and could make for a terrific choral reading.–Nancy Palmer, The Little School, Bellevue, WA
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From Booklist

Gr. 7-12. Fortune was a slave in eighteenth-century Connecticut, and when he died, his owner, a physician, rendered the bones to teach anatomy. In 1933 the physician's family donated the skeleton to the local Mattatuck Museum. Recently, the museum researched Fortune's story, and Connecticut Poet Laureate Marilyn Nelson, author of the award-winning Carver: A Life in Poems (2001), has written a series of six stirring poems to honor Fortune's life. Part funeral mass, part freedom celebration, her spare words are clear about the harshness of his servitude and what his remains tell about his backbreaking labor. In the climactic poem, "Not My Bones," Fortune himself speaks: "You can own someone's body, / the soul runs free." Nelson's small poems are framed by a wealth of facts as well as archival photos and images from the museum exhibit. Should Fortune's skeleton be kept on display, or should it be buried in consecrated ground? Moved by the poetry and the history, readers will want to join the debate. Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 11 - 14 years
  • Grade Level: 6 - 9
  • Series: Coretta Scott King Author Honor Books
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Front Street, Incorporated; 1 edition (November 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1932425128
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932425123
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #718,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
There are as many ways of honoring the long forgotten as there are ways of mucking that honor up. I came to "Fortune's Bones" with just a bit of trepidation, I admit. Though I knew author Marilyn Nelson had created this book to honor a man long dead in the best way she knew how, I was still recovering from a similar, and foul, title called, "Journey To the Bottomless Pit" which also came out in 2004. In both books, a man who was a slave during his lifetime is honored with a children's book of fiction. In "Journey", the book was a simplistic version of a complicated man's life. I prayed that "Fortune's Bones" would not be the same. Those prayers were answered tenfold. Marilyn Nelson tells the story of Fortune in a manner respectful of his life, then accompanies this retelling with a requiem written in his honor. Though I would have enjoyed further factual information on the topic, this is a worthy addition to any poetry collection or non-fiction collection, for children, teens, or grown adults, anywhere.

There once was a man named Fortune. Born a slave in the 1700s, he and his wife and his children all belonged to a Dr. Preserved Porter. Later tests on Fortune's bones show that his life was not an easy one. His back was once broken and though he had a healthy skeleton, he died at the age of 60. When he did, Dr. Porter took Fortune's death as an opportunity to study human anatomy. He removed Fortune's skeleton, tapped the bones, and made himself a complete human skeleton. Every bone was carefully marked and studied by Porter and his ancestors. Years later, Fortune's name was lost and the skeleton was mislabeled "Larry" and given to the Matttatuck Museum. In the 1990s historians did research on it and found Fortune's true name once again.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. Guest on December 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Fortune's skeleton is not on display. The exhibit about Fortune at the Mattatuck Museum includes a photographic illusion allowing visitors to see an image of Fortune's skeleton transform into a painting of Fortune as he may have looked in life. Fortune's actual bones have been carefully placed in archival museum storage, awaiting a community decision about whether to bury the remains or preserve them for future study.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Christina Williams on August 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I can't wait to share this true story with my middle school students and plan to incorporate music (What's a requiem?), history (Revolutionary America and slavery), and science (body systems) when we read it together in class.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By E. K. Vanden Heuvel on December 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As I said above this is an absolutely amazing poem. I had heard it along with the music and really wanted a copy I could keep. I wish someone had recorded it with the music.
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