Ellen’s Broom

Ellen’s Broom
Illustrated by Kelly Starling Lyons, Written by Daniel Minter

Publisher’s Summary:
Ellen always knew the broom resting above the hearth was special. Before it was legal for her mother and father to officially be married, the broom was what made them a family anyway. But now all former slaves who had already been married in their hearts could register as lawful husband and wife.

When Ellen and her family make the long trip to the courthouse dressed in their best, she brings the broom her parents had jumped so many years before. Even though freedom has come, Ellen knows the old traditions are important too. After Mama and Papa’s names are recorded in the register, Ellen nearly bursts with pride as her parents jump the broom once again.

Ellen is a wonderfully endearing character whose love for her family is brought to life in Daniel Minter’s rich and eye-catching block print illustrations.

Primary Source Pairing:
The 1866 Cohabitation Act gave men and women who married as slaves the right to have their marriage legalized. This Act also listed children as part of families, which gave them the right to an inheritance of land. Some couples had been married for many years before their marriages were legally recognized. For this primary source pairing, invite students to analyze a document from Virginia titled Augusta County Cohabitation Record, 1866. For a high-resolution zoom-able version, click here.

To continue the analysis of the 1866 Cohabitation Act, visit Encyclopedia Virginia’s entry about the Act. This site includes a high-resolution image of a Cohabitation Register that can be zoomed in very close to see the tiny details of the document.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Describe what you see.
  • What do you notice first?
  • How much of the text can you read? What does it say?
  • What do you see that looks strange or unfamiliar?
  • How are the words arranged?
  • What do you notice about the page the writing appears on?
  • What do you see on the page besides writing?
  • What other details can you see?
  • What do you think was happening when it was created?
  • What tools and materials were used to create it?
  • What can you learn from examining this?
  • If someone created something like this today, what would be different?
  • What would be the same?

Book Cover and Summary: Follett
Cohabitation Register from Prince Edward County: Encyclopedia Virginia
High-Resolution PDF of Augusta County Cohabitation Record, 1866: edu.lva.virginia.gov
Image of Augusta County Cohabitation Record, 1866: edu.lva.virginia.gov

Additional Resource:
Illustrator Daniel Minter’s website: http://danielminter.net/