By Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Illustrated by Sean Qualls
Random House, 2009
Picture book, Ages 4 and up, Pre-K and up
Additional formats: e-book
Honors: 2010 Charlotte Zolotow Award
In Who Will I Be, Lord?, a young girl reflects on what she will be like when she grows up, as she traces her family tree through story after story of multiple generations. She recounts what she knows about Great-Grandpap, who was a mailman and a radio-show banjo player. The story deepens when the girl recalls the family history of how Great-Grandma, who made the best cakes ever, married Great-Grandpap, and their inter-racial marriage prompted people to say Great-Grandma was crazy.
Along the story goes, meditating on all the people in the family: a preacher, a teacher, a pool shark. A jazzman, a mama, a papa. A dreamer. The girl asks after each, “What will I be, Lord?”
This picture book would be a great read aloud for parents or teachers to kick off a conversation about how family shapes who we are and who we want to be. The refrain that echoes through the text—“what will I be, Lord?”—invites readers to pause and consider how they are connected to those who came before them.
The personal stories of the child’s relatives portray individuals with dreams and struggles and love for each other. The illustrations do such a fine job of connecting the physical traits of each family member to one another down through the generations.
At my grammy’s house, she devoted the hallway to displaying portraits and photographs of our family, all the way back to my great-great grandparents and up to and including my sister, my cousins, and me. I loved to look at the faces of all my people to see who looked alike and who looked like me. I loved to hear the stories of farmers and teachers, shopkeepers and preachers. Who Will I Be, Lord? swept me up into that same wondrous feeling. – Gigi