Cover image for Circle unbroken : the story of a basket and its people
Circle unbroken : the story of a basket and its people
Raven, Margot Theis.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [2004]

Physical Description:
42 unnumbered pages : color illustrations ; 29 cm
A grandmother tells the tale of Gullahs and their beautiful sweetgrass baskets that keep their African heritage alive.
General Note:
"Melanie Kroupa books."
Reading Level:
AD 1050 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR LG 4.5 0.5 77831.

Reading Counts RC 3-5 6.1 3 Quiz: 36020 Guided reading level: NR.
Added Author:
Electronic Access:
Publisher description l
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PIC.BK. Juvenile Fiction Central Closed Stacks
J PIC. BK. Juvenile Fiction Picture Books

On Order



Keeping the African heritage alive

As she teaches her granddaughter to sew a traditional sweetgrass basket, a grandmother weaves a story, going back generations to her old-timey grandfather's village in faraway Africa. There, as a boy, he learned to make baskets so tightly woven they could hold the rain. Even after being stolen away to a slave ship bound for America, he remembers what he learned and passes these memories on to his children - as they do theirs, so that

. . . when your fingers talk just right
that circle will go out and out again -
past slavery and freedom, old ways and new,
and your basket will hold the past . . .

This powerful picture book, with its rhythmic text and evocative paintings, spirals through time, becoming a triumphant song - a rich story of a craft, a culture, and a people.

Author Notes

Margot Theis Raven 's picture books include Angels in the Dust , which was an IRA Teachers' Choice. She lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

E. B. Lewis 's many picture books include Talkin' About Bessie by Nikki Grimes, which received the Coretta Scott King Award. He lives in Folsom, New Jersey.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

PreS-Gr. 3. A child today learns from her grandmother how to make a sweet grass Gullah basket, a craft that her ancestors brought with them from West Africa to South Carolina and Georgia. The clear poetic words and exquisite watercolor illustrations depict how the small circular basket holds the big circle of African American history past slavery and freedom, old ways and new. Far across the ocean, the child's ancestor learned as a young boy to harvest tall grassy reeds and weave them into baskets to winnow the rice. When he came as a slave to a strange land and worked in the fields, he found similar grasses and continued to weave baskets in the old way, as did the woman he married. They passed on their craft and their stories, as the child's grandmother is doing now. Rooted in daily life, the metaphors grow naturally from the weaving action, with fingers that talk and show the road ahead was over and through. The small basket serves as a beautiful way to focus the sweep of African American history, and Lewis' astonishing pictures combine the panoramas of upheaval and war with portraits of individuals in small circles weaving and passing on their heritage in craft and story. The dramatic endpapers reinforce the strength of those ever-widening woven circles, their delicate beauty and enduring connections. A historical note and bibliography are appended. --Hazel Rochman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In the opening scene, an African-American woman encircles the granddaughter who sits on her lap, guiding her fingers in the sewing of sweetgrass baskets. The circle motif weaves in and out of Raven's (Angels in the Dust) poetic tale, referring not just to loving embraces but to the tight, round coils of a Gullah basket, and the ties that bind past to present. Through the story of the girl's "old-timey grandfather," Grandma entwines the history of the Africans' capture with the history of Gullah baskets-which are still crafted today in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia. The girl's African ancestors proudly made baskets so tight they could hold rain, "but the wide, deep ocean held the rain, too, and the rain fell bitter as your grandfather's tears when the slave men came and bound him in chains." Raven's lyrical prose resonates with such emotional connections, and traces the weaving skill as it passes from the Africans to the captives in America to today's roadside craftsmen and women: "And when your fingers talk just right that circle will go out and out again-past slavery and freedom, old ways and new, and your basket will hold the past." Echoing the almost epic style of the text, Lewis's (Joe-Joe's First Flight) watercolors depict lush scenes of Africa that fade to a doleful, monochromatic scene of capture; the Civil War unfolds as a sea of blue-coated soldiers blurred against a gray-blue sky. With repeated readings, children will begin to absorb the many layers of this gracefully constructed tale, as intricate as the baskets and the history to which it pays tribute. Ages 6-up. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

K-Gr 5-A book about the origins of the intricate technique and art of basket making as preserved by the Africans who were brought to America as slaves and their descendants. A grandmother guides her granddaughter's hands as she teaches her the art of basket sewing. When the child asks her how she came to make baskets, the woman's answer harkens back to a time when one of their ancestors, the child's "old-timey grandfather," is being initiated into manhood in a village in Africa. Part of the rite involves being able to make a grass basket woven or coiled so tightly that it can hold water. Soon after this event, the young man is captured, transported to America, and sold as a slave at an auction in Charleston, SC. During the day he works the fields, but by night he makes baskets, and this skill is passed down from one generation to the next. Raven's text masterfully frames several hundred years of African-American history within the picture-book format. Lewis's double-page, watercolor images are poignant and perfectly matched to the text and mood. A section at the end of the book offers information about the "coil" or "Gullah" baskets, as they are known today, as well as the regions of Africa where this art form originated. This title works as both a story and informational book; consider it as a first purchase.-Mary N. Oluonye, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.