Tar Beach is an illustrated children’s book set in Harlem in 1939. The story follows an eight-year-old African-American Immigrant by the name of eight-year-old Cassie Louise Lightfoot adjusting to her new home. She imagines herself flying over her apartment building where her family is playing a traditional card game, and her brother is asleep on a rooftop mattress (Ringgold, 1991).
The story uses colorful images that mirror artwork from her home as a metaphor. She imagines herself being the master of her new city with her prize possession being the George Washington Bridge. She flies over the rooftops and experiences the wonder of New York lights and sounds. She finds them exciting and new as she imagines herself being part of her new environment. Throughout the story she finds herself being both connected to her family and reminiscing about home, while intrigued by her new environment(Ringgold, 1991).
The book addressed the mixed emotions many immigrant children feel when moving to a new country. Immigrant children often struggle to adapt to their new culture and values surrounding creativity and individualism. Many struggle to learn the new language and orientating to the new environment (Ozer, 2015).
In the book, Littlefoot is surrounded by patterns bordering each page that reflect African artwork. The metaphor connects her to her traditional home. Throughout the narrative, she mentions viewing the sky and the lights with wonder, indicating a child-like excitement and possibly some apprehension. Floating over her family on the rooftop suggests that she might be reflecting on traditional gender roles of her native culture (Ringgold, 1991). Often, females and considered nurturers and caretakers. In the story, Littlefoot takes watch over her family and her new city in a loving and gentle manner.
The story does not show Littlefoot interacting with anyone outside of her family (Ringgold, 1991). This might suggest the social isolation she experiences due to a language barrier and differing cultural values. The constant sense of excitement and wonder suggests that she wants to acculturate and own her new environment as she mentions feeling rich and owning all she can see (Ringgold, 1991).
Tar Beach creates a safe and colorful word for readers to experience an immigrant child’s point of view. Rather than addressing the discrimination that is often associated with the immigrant experience, it utilizes a universal sense of childhood wonder and imagination. As with illustration, color, symbolism, and metaphor are used to further enhance the story and connect a deep emotional meaning.
Children experiencing the book might look on the main character as themselves or a playmate on an adventure in the sky. By creating a universal connectives, readers are able to internalize and relate to Littlefoot’s experience. Children might not recognize distinct cultural differences, and gravitate to the colorful, and textural illustrations. This allows Tar Beach to emphasize universal emotions and connect children of various cultures through a story about flying over a Harlem skyscape.
Ringgold, Faith. (1991). Tar Beach. Dragonfly Books, NY. ISBN: 978-0-517-88544-4.
Ozer, S. (2015). Predictors of international students’ psychological and sociocultural adjustment to the context of reception while studying at Aarhus University, Denmark. Scandinavian Journal Of Psychology, 56(6), 717-725.