Books by James Weldon Johnson

LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING by James Weldon Johnson
CHILDREN'S
Released: Nov. 1, 2007

In his highly iconic reinterpretation of the beloved "Negro National Anthem," Collier was inspired by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Below the words of the song on each double-paged spread, a loose visual storyline follows a young boy through his day. Readers see him rising; going to school; with his class, visiting the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., where a 1963 bombing killed four young girls; laying a wreath at Dr. Martin Luther King's statue, which faces the church; and singing the words of Johnson's momentous song. Two intentional unifying visual elements predominate: water (the slave ships of the Middle Passage, the symbolic drinking fountain of the Civil Rights era, a reflecting pool) and the often upraised, lustrous faces of black school children, sometimes profiled in the clouds. A bright blue predominates in intensely hued skies and school uniforms, while Collier's highly recognizable style incorporates watercolor and collage to meaningful effect. (illustrator's note, words with music) (Picture book/nonfiction. 4-8)Read full book review >
MUSIC AND THE ARTS
Released: Jan. 1, 2001

Celebrating the centenary of the song frequently dubbed "The Negro National Anthem," this matches those stirring lyrics to equally heartfelt black-and-white photos. Ranging from family groups, choirs, and crowds to a whip-scarred back, wrinkled hands and a tear-streaked cheek. Included are civil-rights marchers, cotton pickers, portraits formal and candid, the famous, and the unknown. The photographs are so well chosen and so thoughtfully laid out that it's a shame more recognition is not given to the book's designer. Introduced with a personal and historical note by Henrietta M. Smith, capped by James Weldon Johnson's brother's simple musical arrangement, it's a fitting tribute to a long struggle. Read it—better yet, sing it—to children, and let them pore over the powerful pictures. (musical notation, photo credits) (Picture book. 6+)Read full book review >
THE CREATION by James Weldon Johnson
NONFICTION
Released: April 15, 1994

In the spirit of Johnson's poetic voice, which Ransome describes as ``influenced by the...imagery of nineteenth-century African-American plantation preachers,'' the romantic, sun- dappled paintings here are more literal than Carla Golembe's striking, boldly stylized art for her edition (1993) of this splendid verse retelling by the well-loved poet. Pictures of an African-American preacher and his rapt audience of children alternate with handsome full-bleed spreads depicting the six days of creation: what might be the Grand Canyon; a stream rushing through rocks; a blossom-strewn forest floor beside the stream; and so on, to a dark man among the flowers. Rhythmic friezes of animals adorn the text pages of this carefully structured, realistic presentation. The style could hardly be more different from Golembe's: less provocative, more conventional and accessible, yet also painted with real artistry and conviction. It's a measure of the poem's quality that it inspires such a rich variety of responses. (Poetry/Picture book. 4+) Read full book review >
THE CREATION by James Weldon Johnson
POETRY
Released: Sept. 1, 1993

``Then God smiled./And the light broke./And the darkness rolled up on one side./And the light stood shining on the other./And God said: That's good!'' This poem first appeared in God's Trombones in 1927; it's a wonderfully sonorous retelling, gracefully reflecting the story's nobility while renewing it with vivid imagery and an easy informality that never detracts from its dignity. Golembe (Why the Sky Is Far Away, 1992) provides the perfect visual complement: vibrant paintings in broad, freely rendered areas of rich, dark color, splendidly imaginative and decorative. Elephants are as magenta as flamingoes in Golembe's Eden, while Adam and Eve are handsome black silhouettes. An outstanding rendering, not to be missed. (Poetry/Picture book. 4+) Read full book review >
LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING by James Weldon Johnson
Released: Feb. 12, 1993

With an introduction by Jim Haskins explaining how "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing'' (spelling changed only on the title page and jacket here) came to be written and became the "African- American Anthem,'' a handsome setting. Catlett (b. 1915), a black activist, made these powerful linoleum prints commemorating the black experience in 1946 and 1947; though not originally intended to illustrate the song, her images of laboring, tormented, or wearily triumphant figures enrich it with their drama and beauty. Including the art's original captions adds another dimension—the splendid figure "Facing the rising sun...till victory is won'' is Harriet Tubman; the prone, twisted, yet still stalwart man with a noose around his neck ("treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered'') had a caption with poignant multiple meanings: "...and a special fear for my loved ones.'' A moving celebration and interpretation. Music included. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 6+)Read full book review >