Archive for June 27, 2012


i too am america

I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Collier marries the famous poem by Hughes with the story of the African-American Pullman porters, who served the wealthy white patrons aboard trains.  The poem speaks to the dream of freedom and equality that we are moving towards but have not yet attained in America.  It tells of servants sent to eat in the kitchen but also that in the future that will change and no one will again be sent to eat separately.  Collier’s illustrations depict the real work of the Pullman porters and the rhythm of the train seems to appear in Hughes’ poem too.  These men who worked in a racist world long after slavery was abolished are a fitting match to this strong poem that sings.

Hughes was able to write with such spare poetry, that it gives a strong vehicle for illustrations.  Collier built an incredible story around those lines, one of porters and a small boy who has new chances in the modern world.  He wraps his illustrations in the flag, playing with stars and stripes and the blue of the open sky throughout the book.  There is a gravity, a seriousness to his work that is truly fine.  It lifts up to the level of the poem, creating a harmony that is very special.

This is an extraordinary picture book about freedom, African Americans, and the struggle that still goes on every day for equality.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

under the baobab tree

Under the Baobab Tree by Julie Stiegemeyer, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Brother and sister, Moyo and Japera, travel to a neighboring village to gather under the baobab tree, the tree of life.  Different people gather under the baobab at different times.  Sometimes the market wagon is there selling pots, pans and cloths.  Other times, the elders are gathered there talking.  Sometimes it’s a storyteller sharing stories.  As the children walk to the tree, they see all sorts of wildlife like weaver birds, gazelle, and a termite mound.  The siblings reach the baobab tree and more and more people join them, along with the minister and his Bible for church under the tree.

The setting of this book is clear from the very moment you open it.  For some people, from reading the title.  The setting stays true throughout the story, as details about Africa are woven into the story.  The children pass all sorts of creatures as they travel.  The different people under the baobab tree are shared in detail as well.  Clues about what will happen under the tree today are also shared in the text, so religion is tied nicely throughout as well.

Lewis’ art really make this book appealing.  He uses soft lines and almost gauzy colors to tell the story.  The watercolors seem to shimmer in the heat of Africa.  At times there is clarity in the images and great detail, other times the reader is moved further back and the scene itself is captured in its vastness and heat.

A picture book that embraces religion with a gentle touch, this book is a heartfelt welcome to Africa.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

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