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.