In The Hollow of Your Hand: Slave Lullabies

Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2000, 40p.with compact disk

Collected and sung by: Alice McGill

Illustrated by: Michael Cummings

Reviewed by: Dr. Janet Sims-Wood

Reading level: Ages 4-8

     In the introduction, storyteller Alice McGill explains that slave lullabies were real-life stories of slaves who struggled to protect their children from hurt, harm and danger. These songs were passed down through the oral tradition.

     For McGill, this is a book of remembrance. In selecting the title, McGill recalls how her mother would introduce herself in prayer: "Lord, it’s me. I come before you, this mornin’, knee-bent and body bowed, beggin’ for you to hold my little chillun in the hollow of Your hand."

     This book and compact disk of 13 songs is full of lullabies that are part of McGill’s family history. Each lullaby has its own unique story, showing how it is important to her family and how slaves used these songs to soothe their children. Remembering the song, "Who Dat Tappin’," McGill relates that "my father had a glorious singing and storytelling voice. "Who Dat Tappin’" was one of his favorite songs. It was fascinating for us children who had outgrown Pa’s lap to watch him sing the newest baby to sleep. It was almost like watching ourselves. Slaveholders on large plantations often separated children from their parents by placing them in a nursery where older women raised them. The caretakers might comfort the children by announcing, with this song, the impending secret visit of a mother or father."

Who Dat Tappin’

Who dat tappin’ at de window?

Who dat knockin’ at de door?

Mammy tappin’ at de window.

Pappy knockin’ at de door.

     McGill further remembers that "Pa used to tell us,‘Learn a song so you can keep yourself company when you’re by yourself.’ Through music, he taught us how to think playfully and how to keep loneliness away. Sometimes he and my mother had to work twenty miles from our home. They left before sunup and we would not see them again until the sun had set… We thrived on songs like "Go To Sleepy Little Baby" and "Every Little Bit." They reminded us of our parents’ love, making us feel safe until we could be together again."


<back to previous page

continued on next page >

November 2001