A 2013 North Carolina Children's Book Award Nominee


"K-Gr 3–According to an author’s note, while Lyons was researching family history, she learned of the role played by the Freedmen’s Bureau in authenticating the unregistered marriages of former slaves. This Reconstruction-era story imagines what that experience would be like. After their preacher announces the opportunity to register and be considered legally married, Ellen’s parents and siblings gather around the broom hanging above their hearth. Papa explains the custom of “jumping the broom”–the ritual enacted by slaves to signify marital commitment: “we put this here broom on the ground, held hands and leaped into life together.” The family then walks to the courthouse where Mama and Papa are married, with Mama holding the broom, which is later hung above the fireplace. Minter’s striking hand-painted linoleum block prints create a range of physical and emotional settings as the parents reflect on their past and celebrate the significance of being “legal.” Warm brown faces reflect the brilliant golden rays filling the church in a colorful opening imbued with joyous reverence. A muted palette with softer borders is employed for flashbacks, such as that of a husband and wife being cruelly separated by a master. The pink of the protagonist’s dress connects to the flowers she and her sister gather to decorate the broom, as it becomes a link between their heritage and futures. Lyons’s homespun and heartfelt dialogue combines with Minter’s exquisite use of line, color, and composition to produce a story that radiates deep faith and strong family bonds."

–Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library


"Ellen cheerfully watches as her parents, former slaves, legally register their wedding at a Freedman’s Bureau during Reconstruction.  

There’s happiness in the air for Ellen, her family and all their neighbors as they attend church services celebrating the end of slavery and the beginning of freedom. The announcement from the pulpit that slave marriages can now be recognized brings more joy to Ellen’s parents, who share stories with their children of the forced separation of families and the importance of the broom that was used in their own wedding, a broom with a place of honor over the fireplace. It is Ellen’s idea to weave flowers through that broom for the new ceremony. The broom will stay with the family now as a symbol of the past and as a part of family tradition. Stories for young children set during Reconstruction are not common, and Lyons has called upon her own family stories and marriage to shine a spotlight on the period. Minter uses hand-painted linoleum block prints for a bright, sunny and upbeat accompaniment. Scenes of slave times are colored in sepia to set them apart.  

A spirited story filled with the warmth of a close family celebrating a marriage before God and the law. (for children ages 4-8)."


"Set during Reconstruction, this story bursts with one family’s joy as Mama and Papa, both former slaves, legalize their marriage. When Deacon announces the new laws on Sunday, Ellen doesn’t fully understand, but she knows Mama’s tears are happy ones. Previously, slaves marked their unions with broom weddings. A couple would place a broom on the floor, hold hands, and leap over it “into life together.” And so as Mama and Papa head to the courthouse to add their names to the wedding registry, Ellen carries the broom, which has since hung over the hearth as a link to the past. An author’s note reveals that Lyons’ discovery of the 1866 Cohabitation List of Henry Country, Virginia—a document of a time when slave
marriages weren’t protected by law—inspired the book. Minter’s vibrant, hand-painted block prints, filled with period detail, nicely enhance this testament to remembering the trials of the past and celebrating hardwon freedom. Use as a springboard for discussion with elementary-age children."

-- Ann Kelley


"Just as the gift of Dr. Seuss' classic Oh! The Places You'll Go! has become an enduring June tradition that celebrates commencement for graduates of all ages, Ellen's Broom, written by Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by Daniel Minter, is sure to become the go-to gift of unique and special value for African American weddings. With a substantive storyline that expresses the poignant significance of our jumping-the-broom ritual and beautiful illustrations of Black family life, this book is a perfect expression of the enduring power of Black love . . . "

-- Eisa Nefertari Ulen


"Young Ellen and her family rejoice in the exciting news that former slaves living as husband and wife can now have their union legally recognized. Ellen’s mother and father help their children recall the story of how they 'jumped the broom.' In a heartwarming ending, Ellen and her sister weave flowers into the broom displayed above their mantle. Inspired by events in her family’s history, Lyons’ heartfelt, accessible narrative can be a springboard for a rich discussion exploring equality, marriage rights, and wedding
traditions. Minter’s striking linoleum block prints convey a range of emotions and cleverly use color to differentiate between past and present. A solid addition to library collections, this beautiful work will be a “clean sweep” for librarians searching for historical materials to support the curriculum."

-- Jamie Campbell Naidoo


“Ellen’s Broom by Kelly Starling Lyons is entertaining and delightful. Enriched with amazing illustrations and summaries, this book celebrates the meaningful history of weddings for the African American community. This articulate, bright and cheerful story is a must for all families to read."

"This story is a wonderful way to celebrate and re-discover wedding with tradition for many years to come."


"Some youngsters may not know that marriage for African-Americans wasn't allowed until well after the abolishment of slavery. Traditionally, many couples "jumped the broom" instead, which means they literally jumped over a broom to seal their love bonds.

"Ellen's Broom," set during the complicated time of Reconstruction, when African-Americans were first realizing their rights, explains the history of jumping the broom at weddings. Told through the eyes of a young girl named Ellen, the special story explains entertainingly how the broom ceremony made her loved ones a family. It also moves on happily, as Ellen and her parents, dressed in their best, make the long trip to the courthouse to register legally.

A sweet ode to families, Lyon's lovely picture book showcases the importance of equal rights, but it also shows that old traditions are special. Illuminated woodcut block prints give "Ellen's Broom" a zesty feel, making the book a touching wedding present or satisfying read aloud."


"Ellen's Broom is a beautiful love story, that reminds us of the strength and love that has existed in our families for centuries. A lesson to us all that many traditions have roots and significance that we must commit to keeping alive, in remembrance to all who struggled so that we could live freely."


"Ellen’s Broom is a delightful book about how a broom that was once used during the time of slavery for marriage becomes a tradition. Readers will journey with Ellen as she carries the broom her parents once jumped over during slavery to bind the family to a courthouse where her parents will be officially married

Kelly has a wonderful and delightful way of creating characters that connects with young readers. And that connection takes you on a journey through a moment in time. It’s like the characters hold your hand as they tell you about history … what a way to learn.

And let me just say, from someone who is big on illustrations, Daniel Minter did a wonderful job with his block print illustrations. When my eight-year-old daughter saw this book lying on my table she asked if she could have a poster.

Ellen’s Broom is a great book about family traditions and I can’t wait to read more books from Kelly Starling Lyons.

And just a side note: This book is schedule to come on January 5th 2012 and I hope you all run out and buy one.


"Lyons approaches this timeless story of triumph over heartache through the eyes of a young girl in a tender, yet highly profound way. The powerful illustrations, deftly toying with color and light, are loaded with intriguing layers of emotional depth. Together, Lyons and Minter have created an important book celebrating the precious bond of marriage and the trials of a people who yearned to openly express their loving commitment to one another."


"A family heritage is something we should all treasure and embrace. The good and bad of our past is what makes us strong as we move forward into the next generation. Kelly Starling has done an excellent job in showing young readers the importance of family in Ellen's Broom.

Ellen sat in church with her family on a day that meant more than all the others. They were free. Slavery days were over. For Ellen's family this meant that in the eyes of the law she and her family would never have to be separated. At home, her mother looks at the old broom above the hearth. It represented the only wedding slaves were allowed to have. A broom wedding was how Ellen's parents were married. During that time a couple would have their Deacon say a few words and then together they would jump over a broom. Now that they are free, Ellen's parents want to be married legal just like everybody else. Ellen has been put in charge of making sure the broom makes it to the court house, to once again bear witness to their union.

Parents and teachers can utilize this wonderful story to discuss the importance of family and heritage. This would be a great opportunity for children to bring in old photos to the classroom and share their stories. At home parents can open the family photo album to share the family history. Ellen's Broom will help remind us all that we should never take our freedom for granted."


"When young Ellen asks about the broom hanging above her family fireplace she receives an unexpected history lesson. It is that lesson burning in her spirit that bursts into inspiration as the family makes the long trek to the courthouse in order for her parents to legalize their marriage.

This story gives more than historical information. It is also an example for families on how to relay and preserve their family history. It’s richly hued images make this work a valuable addition to any youth or adult book collection.

Kudos to the author for a job well done!"


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