Books by Leonard Jenkins

SWEET LAND OF LIBERTY by Deborah Hopkinson
Released: March 1, 2007

Hopkinson shines the spotlight on Oscar Chapman, assistant secretary of the interior, who worked behind the scenes to make Marian Anderson's concert at the Lincoln Memorial a reality. Hopkinson begins her tale with an anecdote from Chapman's youth in rural Virginia: Asked by his teacher to buy a picture to decorate the school, he chooses a picture of Abraham Lincoln and is expelled by the bigoted school board. The narrative fast-forwards to 1939, giving the background behind the Daughters of the American Revolution's refusal to let Anderson sing at Constitution Hall and revealing the tremendous organizing effort Chapman undertook not only to make the concert happen, but to make it a turning point in American history. Jenkins's mixed-media illustrations are freighted with emotion, unnatural colors and skewed angles underlining the tumult of feelings surrounding the events, scribbles of colored chalk making the connection between Chapman the impassioned schoolboy and Chapman the righteous man. An author's note provides details, although the presumably invented dialogue goes unsourced. Still, it brings deserved attention to Chapman and underscores the very worthwhile message that one does not need to be a star to make a difference. (Picture book/nonfiction. 6-10)Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 2007

In 1955, African-Americans were playing in the major leagues, but much of America remained segregated. The Cannon Street YMCA fielded the only all-black, official Little League teams in South Carolina. At the end of the season, their all-star team was set to play in the state tournament that would lead to the national play-offs. But racism reared its head and all the white teams refused to play them, holding their own tournament instead, without sanction by the Little League organization. The Cannon Street team, state champions via forfeit, was invited to the World Series as spectators only. Weatherford treats the tale as memoir. Cleveland, a fictional member of the team, narrates the events and the "what-ifs" without bitterness, but with a sense of frustration and loss, still retaining a love for the game. Jenkins's strong illustrations, rendered in pencil, acrylic and spray paint, bring everything vividly to life. There is no happy ending, but rather a bittersweet recognition that wrongs cannot always be made right. (Picture book. 7-10)Read full book review >
Released: July 15, 2006

Almaz is a spunky young lady who wants to raise bees and make honey, work that is only done by men in her Ethiopian village of Lalibela. She is ridiculed by a group of male beekeepers, but encouraged to pursue her dream by a young Ethiopian Orthodox priest. When she finally invents a new type of beehive, her detractors realize that her honey is indeed the best in the village. Although the story begins in the past with the hints of a legend describing why the town, also famous for its stone churches, is known for bees and honey, this original tale is set in contemporary times. An author's note provides some background. Jenkins's intensely colored mixed-media illustrations, employing both abstract images and realistic faces, depict a traditional society with few hints of modernity. (Picture book. 6-8)Read full book review >
LANGSTON’S TRAIN RIDE by Robert Burleigh
Released: Oct. 1, 2004

Stunning illustrations cannot rescue a deeply flawed text that purports to capture Langston Hughes's excitement upon writing "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" and its subsequent publication. Leonard Jenkins's richly colored multi-media illustrations leap and dance, never standing still on the page. He evokes both Jazz Age Harlem and the great American Midwest with bold brushstrokes and a combination of print and collage, granting the subjects an appropriately mythic quality. But Burleigh's text, delivered as if in Hughes's own voice, goes way beyond invented dialogue—it's an entirely invented stream-of-consciousness that takes readers from Hughes's first publication party back to the train ride that sparked the great poem. This narration is almost painfully disingenuous, if not downright phony: "I'm on my way—to one of the best days of my young life." The author's presumption in appropriating what is unknowable—Hughes's thoughts at these times—is breathtaking. There are no references whatsoever to sources in the back matter, although there is a brief biographical note, and Hughes's poem itself is printed in full. Unfortunately, this offering does its subject a grievous injustice. (Picture book/nonfiction. 6-9)Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 2004

A talking mule, a talking skull, a witch who slips her skin, and a man so powerful that he's not admitted to heaven or hell star in this appealing but flawed companion to What's The Hurry, Fox? and Other Animal Stories (p. 331), illustrated by Bryan Collier. Jenkins's semi-abstract, black-and-white scenes of ghosts and bones add eerie atmosphere to the six folktales; Thomas has recast Hurston's original, thick dialect into a modern idiom, while nicely preserving that country flavor: "No, Pa, that mule's done gone to talking, I tell you. I ain't going." But some of the stories are only fragments, and the collection as a whole is jumbled; a boaster named High Walker dies in one tale, but isn't introduced until a later one, and Thomas's introduction has, oddly, been placed at the end. Hurston's work merits a less clumsy introduction to young readers, and Mary Lyon's Raw Head, Bloody Bones (1991) is only one of many similar folktale gatherings with a higher chill factor. (Folktales. 8-10)Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 2004

Pre-teenagers Beth Lambert and Philip Hall were first introduced to readers in the 1970s. Now there is a nostalgic small-town feel as the two deal with the ins and outs of their friendship. Beth's friends in the Walnut Ridge Irritated Oysters club reluctantly bid her goodbye as she returns from her grandparents' home to her good ole hometown of Pocahontas, Arkansas. A little jealousy and curiosity come between the two and before Beth knows it, Philip is preparing to arm-wrestle a non-existent foe from Walnut Ridge. When the town's mayor issues a challenge to the mayor of Walnut Ridge to send the foe or any arm-wrestler who is better, Mama Regina (Beth's grandmother) arrives in town, and after much drama, the townspeople reluctantly match her up with the town's champion: Philip Hall. The climax is predictable and the drama contrived. Only a few readers will find the setting or events credible—even if viewed in a historical context. (Fiction. 8-10)Read full book review >
A GOOD NIGHT FOR FREEDOM by Barbara Olenyik Morrow
Released: Feb. 15, 2004

In this thoughtful work of historical fiction, a child must decide whether to abide by the law and turn in two runaway slaves or go against it and aid them in their pursuit of freedom. Morrow's story introduces the Coffins, real-life abolitionists living in Indiana in the early 1800s. The runaways are real, too; Morrow learned their names researching 19th-century court records. What's imagined is the encounter between the child, Hallie, and the runaways whom the Coffin's harbor in their basement. In this moment, she presents young readers with a powerful dilemma. Jenkins's stirring illustrations—created with spray paint, acrylic, pastel, and colored pencil—heighten the drama. Dark blues and fiery reds reflect the violence of the slave catchers, while bright golds and yellows represent the hopefulness of the runaways and Hallie's enlightened sense of justice. An excellent choice for children studying the Underground Railroad. (Picture book. 5-9)Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 2004

Following up their portrait of Malcolm X (2000), Myers briefly traces Dr. King's career, and Jenkins adds kaleidoscopic collages that both depict major incidents and figures of the Civil Rights movement, and capture the time's turmoil. Dr. King certainly doesn't lack for biographers, but Myers is unusually even-handed, highlighting King's nonviolent philosophy while viewing the Movement's angrier, more violent outbursts with a certain degree of—not sympathy, exactly, but understanding. Though Jenkins's images are sometimes over the top, as when he outfits the four children killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing with angel wings, and Myers frequently slips paraphrased lines from Dr. King's speeches into his narrative—"He said that he had been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land. He knew he might not reach that land . . . "—the balance of fact and feeling makes this a strong follow-up to Doreen Rappaport's Martin's Big Words (2002). (Picture book/biography. 5-8)Read full book review >
A KENYA CHRISTMAS by Tony Johnston
Released: Oct. 15, 2003

In this original tale set in Kenya, an old man named Juma recounts the story of a special Christmas when he was ten. His rich aunt Aida came to visit and promised to help her nephew fulfill his Christmas wish to see Father Christmas in person. She provides a red Father Christmas costume and Juma is to arrange for a man to wear the costume and ride through the village on an elephant. The celebration takes place as planned, but in the surprising conclusion, the man who was to wear the suit shows up to apologize for missing the event. The villagers look up, stunned, to see a huge elephant crossing the sky with Father Christmas on his back. The well-crafted story has the ring of a folktale, and the clever twist of the real Father Christmas's appearance will delight children as they discover his true identity. The stunning illustrations employ bold swatches of color against dark backgrounds with a variety of textures and underlaid patterns. Includes a glossary of terms. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
MOTORCYCLE SONG by Diane Siebert
Released: March 1, 2002

Motorcycle fans young and old will find that this evocative poetic work revs up their reading engines, with one long but accessible poem that celebrates motorcycle mania and the lure of the lonely highway. Siebert (Mississippi, not reviewed, etc.) continues her successful series of transportation-themed poetry collections with this latest work. Here she knows whereof she speaks because she rides a 750cc Honda Nighthawk herself. Her long, rhyming poem can be read as one longer piece, or it can easily be broken into shorter sections that can stand alone. She begins and ends by focusing on a single "motorcycle man," who rides out of town in search of "wide roads / side roads / perfect-for-a-ride roads." He drives down highways and country roads, meeting different bikers and describing their motorcycles: "hot bikes / cool bikes / enough-to-make-you-drool bikes," with popular brand names woven into the text (causing a few sputters in the meter). Vibrant mixed-media paintings effectively showcase the motorcycles with dynamic style. The text is incorporated into the double-page spreads, set attractively in all-lower-case italics for a clean, modern look that will appeal to older readers, as will the sophisticated illustrations. The high in "high interest" doesn't get much more appealing than this. (Poetry. 5-12)Read full book review >
TITUBA by William Miller
Released: Oct. 1, 2000

The intriguingly complicated story of Tituba and the Salem witch trials is presented for a young audience with some liberties taken with the facts that are actually known about her. Miller's history as a poet comes through in his telling, especially during Tituba's description of her homeland to the two girls in her care. She fondly recalls the beautiful birds that would greet her each morning on the way to the river, her gratitude to the water spirits when filling her jar and her ability to tell fortunes by tossing shells. After these revelations the girls have strange dreams and Tituba is accused of being a witch. Brought before a judge and persecuted because she is different, Tituba is told to "confess or die." To avoid execution and to save herself, she tells the court what they want to hear. Sitting alone in jail, when all others have been sent home, she is distraught to the point of wanting to end it all. But her spirit is uplifted when moonlight washes over her, for she realizes that the moon shines on everyone equally. She's released and sold to another family far away. When young slaves from her native island arrive, Tituba becomes their mentor, advising that "a master might own your body, but he can never own your spirit." Unfortunately, most of this story is imagined. Very little is known about what happened to Tituba, as the author himself points out. And it is uncertain whether he even knows what she could have been thinking. While the intent is certainly a noble one, readers deserve to know when a story is fiction and when it is not. Jenkins's art is interesting and often very powerful, although Tituba sometimes seems to be placed on top of the scene. It is unfortunate that it accompanies a flawed text. (Picture book. 6-9)Read full book review >
IF I ONLY HAD A HORN by Roxanne Orgill
Released: Sept. 1, 1997

Less prettified than Alan Schroeder's recent Satchmo's Blues (1996), the story of how Louis Armstrong got his first horn. As Orgill tells it in her first book for children, Armstrong himself gave conflicting accounts of how he came by his first horn; here, his first instrument was actually a bugle that he played in reform school, where he was sent after being arrested for shooting a .38 in the street on New Year's Eve. Later the school's band director entrusted him with a battered cornet, and Louis went on to lead the band in a triumphant parade through his old New Orleans neighborhood. The dark, edgy, mixed-media paintings, with lurid yellow highlights, give an almost palpable sense of the rough poverty and swirling nightlife of Armstrong's early environment. It's not a book that can stand on its own; readers will need to have this fragment of Armstrong's life put into context in order to understand where sheer talent, determination, and luck eventually brought him. Orgill's telling has immediacy, however, and it has moments (e.g., when Louis snags himself a nickname) that are electric. (Picture book/biography. 5-8) Read full book review >
SAMBALENA SHOW-OFF by Phillis Gershator
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

A cautionary tale, set in the Caribbean, based on a Brazilian song about an indolent boy, Sambalena. To the consternation of his family, Sambalena has an aversion to work in any form. He'd rather be showing off. But his attitude changes drastically when he puts his head in a clay pot as a joke and it becomes stuck. His confinement gives Sambalena new insight into the value of work and the joy of helping others. Gershator (Tukama Tootles the Flute, 1994, etc.) ably introduces young readers to the story behind the song; Jenkins's artwork evokes the colors and rhythm of life in the West Indies, planting realistic figures against sun-drenched, stylized landscapes. (Picture book/folklore. 5-8) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 17, 1994

While working in the fields, a mother lays her child in the shade of a tree. When the babe begins to cry, an eagle swoops down and comforts him, much to the astonishment of the mother, who had thought eagles were fierce. Though her intuition tells her to keep the marvel to herself, she confides the events to her husband, who thinks she's been out in the sun too long. He goes with her to the field, witnesses the remarkable encounter, and, remembering ``how their beaks, like knives, tore the throats of antelope, causing the blood to gush forth,'' shoots an arrow at the bird. The eagle dodges, and the arrow strikes and kills the child. Lester (The Last Tales of Uncle Remus, p. 70, etc.; John Henry, see above) informs the reader that the man unleashed murder into the world ``because he thought he knew what he had never seen and never experienced.'' Hold on: This father had seen eagles gut antelope—why wouldn't he fear for his child? And ``murder'' might be a bit strong in this context. Jenkins's rich oil paintings keep this story from crash landing. They're powerful minimalist landscapes with figures on the surrealist edge—paintings that have you turning the pages for more. (Folklore/Picture book. 6-10) Read full book review >
MAYFIELD CROSSING by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Released: Jan. 4, 1993

The eight kids at Mayfield Crossing are a tightknit group who enjoy playing baseball together; but now, in 1960, their little school is closed and they're bused to larger Parkview Elementary, where they don't get much of a welcome—they're not even chosen for the lunch-time ballgame. For bright Meg Turner, the only African-American in her fourth grade, it's a first experience with racism. But at least she (unlike her brother Billie) has a nice teacher, Mr. Stanley: When Clayton, who has been heckling her since the first day, accuses Meg of cheating, Mr. Stanley helps her disprove the charge—but after Clayton retaliates and Billie comes to Meg's defense, all three land in the principal's office. Justice again prevails, and the Mayfield kids finally win acceptance by their fair play and by challenging Parkview to a baseball game, with one of Meg's new classmates volunteering to be the ninth on their team. Drawing on her own small-town Pennsylvania childhood, the author offers a creditable first novel recalling how patience and nonconfrontational assertiveness were used to defuse prejudice in the 60's. Characters aren't well individualized, but the Turner family dynamics are wholesome, and the playground interaction and the ultimate resolution believable. (Fiction. 8-11) Read full book review >