CITATION: Hylton, Najah-Amatullah & Qurayash Ali Lansana. Opal’s Greenwood Oasis. The Calliope Group, 2021.
This beautifully illustrated work of historical fiction follows Opal Brown, a third grader living in Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood in 1921. Through colorful collages, readers watch Opal ride her bike to pick up blueberries for her mother. As she rides through her neighborhood, readers learn about various real businesses that existed in the Greenwood neighborhood in 1921. This book establishes the fact that even in spite of legal segregation, Tulsa’s Greenwood functioned as a self-sufficient black community. It gives readers the sense that this was a very real neighborhood where families lived and worked and raised children. The events leading up to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre are subtly referenced when Opal hears some men discussing trouble that is brewing downtown, but her family goes on to attend a church picnic where Opal eats a piece of her mother’s blueberry pie. The story deliberately ends on a hopeful note. The Massacre is covered in a section at the end of the book called “What Happened to Opal’s Oasis” but it is not included as a part of Opal’s story. This book thinks intentionally about how to introduce very young children to the successes and self-sufficiency of Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood. In leaving the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre out of the main story, it ensures that young children first understand just how special Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood was and is. Worth noting too is that the book has been illustrated by Oklahoma City-based multi-media artist, Skip Hill. His colorful collage-like illustrations often stem from archival photographs juxtaposed with animated illustrations of Opal and her family.