JULY 25:

  • It’s the birth date of Ruth Kraus (1901-1993) The Carrot Seed, A Hole is to Dig.
  • Early twentieth-century illustrator Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) was also born on this day. Read The Knave of Hearts and Maxfield Parrish: A Treasury of Art and Children’s Literature edited by Alma Gilbert.
  • It’s the anniversary of the first flight from France across English Channel in 1909. Read The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louise Bleriot by Alice and Martin Provensen.
  • In 1952 Puerto Rico becomes self-governing commonwealth of the United States. Read Puerto Rico in American History by Richard Worth and The Song of el Coqui and Other Tales of Puerto Rico by Nicholasa Mohr and Antonio Martorell.
  • It’s Merry-Go-Round Day. Read Merry-Go-Round: A Book About Nouns by Ruth Heller and Up and Down on the Merry-Go-Round by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, illustrated by Ted Rand.

July has been designated National Black Family Month, a month for Black Americans “to invest in their families as well as themselves.” The organizers hope that participants will have family reunions, dinners, or network with each other.

Today I want to focus on one of the most magical family dinners ever portrayed. Faith Ringgold created her first children’s book, Tar Beach, winner of a Caldecott Honor, not from pencil and paper but from one of the story quilts that made her famous. In 1988, she finished five story quilts, part of the “Woman on a Bridge” series, now owned by the Guggenheim Museum. Descended from Southern slaves, Ringgold decided to use one of their artistic formats, the patchwork quilt, to tell modern stories based on her own childhood.

Cassie, the narrator of Tar Beach, dreams of being free and flying over New York City and the George Washington Bridge, which she can see from her Harlem apartment. Her fantasy of flying stands in juxtaposition to the reality of her life. On this evening in 1939, Cassie and her mother, father, and brother have a sumptuous dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Honey on the rooftop of their apartment, which they call tar beach. As the adults play cards, the children stretch out on the tiny rooftop with views of stars and skyscrapers and look at floodlights in the sky: “I owned all that I could see. The bridge was my most prized possession.”

Although the book explores how wonderful everyday life can be with enough imagination, it also contains a somber note: Cassie’s father can’t join the worker’s union because of his racial heritage. But in the end, the book celebrates a black family dinner of roasted peanuts, fried chicken, and watermelon, made even more delectable by the setting. A perfect summer’s evening caught forever in one of Faith Ringgold’s quilts—and also in this lyrical children’s books.

So, wherever you head for family dinner, be sure to bring along Tar Beach. In the end, it celebrates the small moments of life and the strength of family ties and community.

Here’s a page from Tar Beach:


Originally posted July 25, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: African American, Family, Food, Imagination, Multicultural, New York, Seasons, Summer, True Story
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Tar Beach


  1. jennifer reed says:

    Excellent choice! I loved sharing this book with my children and later my students for exactly the reasons you mention. It resonates with me because I grew up in Boston where once we had roof access we would travel the entire block making up stories of intrepid travellers on high.

  2. Sandy B. says:

    A terrific choice for summer, or anytime. Faith Ringgold can do no wrong!

  3. Liz Parker says:

    Great book for the reasons Anita already mentione.! I like to use this book for those reasons with 3rd graders and when we’re looking for poetic language similes/metaphors.

  4. Jewell Stoddard says:

    This is one of the best summer books. Thanks for reminding us of it. You are right, it is magical

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