Books by Javaka Steptoe

RADIANT CHILD by Javaka Steptoe
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 25, 2016

"Stellar bookmaking—a riveting portrait of a young artist. (author's note, bibliography, biography) (Picture book/biography. 6-12)"
Steptoe chronicles the formative years and evolving style of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a Brooklyn-born graffiti artist with a rising career in the 1980s fine arts world; coverage ceases before his untimely drug-related death at age 27. Read full book review >
WHAT'S SPECIAL ABOUT ME, MAMA? by Kristina Evans
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 18, 2011

A small boy asks his mother for reassurances that he is special. But the things she cites speak to him more of connections than uniqueness. His beautiful eyes are like his mother's, his skin color like his father's. Mama lists his helpful hands, his laughter, his kind heart and his hugs and kisses, but he sees these as small and imperfect. It is his mother's huge, limitless love for him that makes him special. Evans employs a warm conversational tone and syntax that not only applies to the child in the tale but speaks universally to young readers, who will recognize their own special qualities. The large, naive-looking type appears around and through the pictorial matter, with key words like "amazing" and "beautiful" popping out larger, bolder and brightly colored. Steptoe's unique textured, mixed-media illustrations are large-scale depictions of loving gestures and body and facial expressions. Like Mama Do You Love Me and Guess How Much I Love You but with an entirely fresh look; little ones will want to hear this sweet tale again and again. (Picture book. 2-6)Read full book review >
JIMI by Gary Golio
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 4, 2010

Golio examines Jimi Hendrix's childhood creativity as a nurtured progression that stoked an explosively influential expression in the '60s. From drawing, painting and coaxing the sounds of raindrops out of a one-string ukulele, Jimmy (he became Jimi as an adult) acquires a $5 acoustic guitar and then a cheap electric model, which was "to Jimmy...pure gold." Playing along with radio tunes, haunting Seattle record stores and devouring his father's jazz and blues LPs, Jimmy turns a curiosity into a passion. The author—an artist and clinical social worker—lucidly demonstrates that a path to creative excellence is not only possible for young people but self-actualizing. In a note, he writes candidly about Hendrix's addiction, offering prevention websites for children and teens. Steptoe's superb mixed-media illustrations consciously utilize dual techniques, echoing Jimi's artistic maturation. On reclaimed plywood, sketchy pastel cutouts float against brilliantly vivid, photo-collaged impasto. Outstanding in every way. (biographical note, author's note, websites, illustrator's note, bibliography, discography) (Picture book/biography. 6-11)Read full book review >
AMIRI & ODETTE by Walter Dean Myers
FAIRY TALES, FOLKTALES AND MYTHS
Released: Jan. 1, 2009

The acclaimed author uproots the 19th-century classical ballet Swan Lake from its enchanted world of mist-filled lakes and palaces and plunks it solidly down into the dark, danger-filled Swan Lake Projects. The courtly Prince Siegfried morphs into the basketball player Amiri, and the beautiful Odette, turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer in the original, is now under the thralldom of Big Red, the local drug dealer. Myers tells the tale in rap-inspired verse, which appears on the page in different sizes and colors placed for their design values and not for ease of reading. The result strains with the necessity of maintaining narrative symmetry; verse that tries to soar in beat with Tchaikovsky's memorable score is reduced to a plethora of overwrought phrases—"O muffle the drum and mute the horn, / From love's demise, despair is born!" Perhaps Myers would have been better served by Romeo and Juliet, frequently rewritten but more manageable and logical. However, Steptoe's collage-on cinder-block paintings are powerful, haunting and worthy of multiple viewings. His Odette is truly luminous. (Picture book/poetry. 12 & up)Read full book review >
RAIN PLAY by Cynthia Cotten
CHILDREN'S
Released: April 1, 2008

The children in Steptoe's crumpled-tissue collages don't leave the playground when the sky darkens or the rain starts coming down more and more heavily—but come a FLASH! and a BOOM!, it's "Uh-oh. / Time to go. / Hurry, hurry, / scoot and scurry." Superimposed on the art's wrinkled surfaces, the text's short couplets won't be a challenge even for newly emergent readers, and the laughing, brown- and yellow-skinned figures dance through the elongated raindrops with infectiously joyous abandon. The stream of rainy-day tales never seems to abate, but this stands out as one of the simplest, both in language and feeling. (Picture book. 4-6) Read full book review >
HOT DAY ON ABBOTT AVENUE by Karen English
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 24, 2004

It's a hot day—it's also a "best-friend-breakup day." As Miss Johnson works her crossword puzzle and dozes, as Mr. Paul weeds his flower bed, Kishi and Renée remain resolutely apart: it appears that Kishi bought the very last blue ice pop, even though she knows that's Renée's favorite. It's a "never-speak-to-her-again-even-if-she-was-the-last-person-on-earth day." But then the siren song of jump-rope chanting calls and the girls are reunited in double-dutch—finding final resolution in one last, shared blue ice pop. English has childhood spats down pat, the apocalyptic sundering of a friendship miraculously healed by play. Steptoe's textured collage illustrations feature tissue-paper clothing over paper skin, all set against a background of rough wooden boards. He renders facial features in a highly naturalistic manner, with outsized lips and flat noses; it's an effect that may initially be off-putting for readers accustomed to smooth prettiness, but the total effect is both original and emotionally effective (particularly when the girls are squinty-mad, the ugliness of their emotions showing up clearly on their faces). The final scenes, of play and ice pops, are full of movement and energy and joy. "So good!" (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
THE JONES FAMILY EXPRESS by Javaka Steptoe
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 1, 2003

Steptoe makes his authorial debut in this engaging story about a boy's special relationship with his aunt. Every summer, Aunt Carolyn goes traveling. Now, she's returning for the family's annual block party and young Steven searches for a gift to welcome her home. Throughout, he frames text as if in a postcard or letter and set against a backdrop of his signature cut-paper and mixed-media collage. In the opening spread, photographs and postcards are scattered about; on the left, the boy sits with snapshots pulled from the box beside him, all from his aunt's travels. As the tale unfolds, family members and neighborhood folks are introduced, including Steven's grandmother, with whom he lives and Jamaican-born shopkeeper Ruby, whose store comes alive with colorful fabric accents and cut-out photos of beaded necklaces, amber stones, and African art. His character's faces infuse the compositions with an unexpected realism. In the end, Steven surprises Aunt Carolyn with a gift that comes straight from the heart. And she, in turn, surprises Steven with a gift of her own. A promising new direction for Steptoe. (Picture book. 4-9)Read full book review >
DO YOU KNOW WHAT I’LL DO? by Charlotte Zolotow
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 30, 2000

A big sister lovingly promises to bring her little brother flowers when flowers grow again, a shell to hold the sound of the sea, a bottle of captured wind to open on a hot day, and other treasures, some more emotional than concrete as in, "I'll remember my dreams and tell them to you." Steptoe (In Daddy's Arms I Am Tall, 1997) illustrates Zolotow's 1958 text with rich collages constructed from pieces of painted plywood, cloth, ribbon, dried flowers, and other materials, brushing lines of yellow around dark brown limbs and facial features to add definition and draw the viewer's eye to subtly curving lips or eyes. Unlike such antiphonal classics as Margaret Wise Brown's Runaway Bunny (1942) or Sam McBratney's Guess How Much I Love You (1994), there is only one voice here and so, less character interplay. But there's a lot to look at and young readers and listeners will find themselves wrapped in the same warm intimacy. And it ends, properly, with a hug. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Nov. 1, 1997

Steptoe (son of the late John Steptoe) creates art for 13 poems that honor fathers, e.g., Sonia Sanchez's ``I have looked into/my father's eyes and seen an/african sunset.'' Among others who have contributed to the volume are Folami Abiade (with the title poem), Lenard D. Moore, Dakari Hru, and Dinah Johnson. At times, elements of the poets' subject matter are depicted—photographed pennies are the background for the portrait of one father. Some poems are better than others; some are more message than art, although all of them are appealing. A particularly memorable sentiment is found in Davida Adedjouma's ``Artist to Artist,'' in which a woman appreciates that her artist father sorted mail ``all night and into the day'' for the family, and passed on to her the ``urge to create/characters with meat on their bones, in flesh-colored tones written in words as vivid'' as her crayon-box colors. Each piece elicits a work of art that translates beautifully to the printed page, from the jacket's gallery of small paintings to the half-title's portrait of a family—with smudged limbs and torsos, and heads made from painted discs or buttons—framed by colorful wooden beads. Brief biographies of the contributors appear in the back of this inventive, evocative book. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >