LANGSTON HUGHES

AMERICAN POET

The text of a 1974 picture-book biography of the poet Langston Hughes is reprinted, with new illustrations. The narrative focuses on Hughes’s youth, describing how the break-up of his parents’ marriage led to an unsettled childhood spent first with his storytelling grandmother and later, in adolescence, with his often unemployed mother. From these experiences, coupled with a disappointing relationship with his embittered father, grew Hughes’s passion for setting down in verse his pride in his people. Unfortunately, the text itself demonstrates little passion, and almost no sense of poetry—a sad absence in a book about one of the 20th-century’s greatest American poets. An author’s note, new for this edition, indicates that a passion for the subject is there, despite appearances; it seems that here Walker has simply succumbed to the “dumbing-down” syndrome that afflicts so many writers for adults when they turn their pens to children’s books. The elegance of her prose for adults is largely missing in this offering, which features choppy, pedestrian language instead: “This [discrimination] made Langston mad. He thought it was stupid for white people not to hire him just because his skin was black.” Deeter’s muted illustrations do little to compensate for the lackluster text; mostly static, they at times verge on the sentimental. One exception to this is a striking, Dillon-like composition that pictures a monumental black man growing organically out of the land around the Mississippi; this accompanies one of the two poems included in the text, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” The writer of those poems deserves better than this. No bibliography or source notes are included. (Picture book/biography. 7-10)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-021518-6

Page Count: 48

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2001

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A picture book worth reading about a historical figure worth remembering.

THE AMAZING AGE OF JOHN ROY LYNCH

An honestly told biography of an important politician whose name every American should know.

Published while the United States has its first African-American president, this story of John Roy Lynch, the first African-American speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, lays bare the long and arduous path black Americans have walked to obtain equality. The title’s first three words—“The Amazing Age”—emphasize how many more freedoms African-Americans had during Reconstruction than for decades afterward. Barton and Tate do not shy away from honest depictions of slavery, floggings, the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws, or the various means of intimidation that whites employed to prevent blacks from voting and living lives equal to those of whites. Like President Barack Obama, Lynch was of biracial descent; born to an enslaved mother and an Irish father, he did not know hard labor until his slave mistress asked him a question that he answered honestly. Freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, Lynch had a long and varied career that points to his resilience and perseverance. Tate’s bright watercolor illustrations often belie the harshness of what takes place within them; though this sometimes creates a visual conflict, it may also make the book more palatable for young readers unaware of the violence African-Americans have suffered than fully graphic images would. A historical note, timeline, author’s and illustrator’s notes, bibliography and map are appended.

A picture book worth reading about a historical figure worth remembering. (Picture book biography. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8028-5379-0

Page Count: 50

Publisher: Eerdmans

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

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26 FAIRMOUNT AVENUE

            The legions of fans who over the years have enjoyed dePaola’s autobiographical picture books will welcome this longer gathering of reminiscences.  Writing in an authentically childlike voice, he describes watching the new house his father was building go up despite a succession of disasters, from a brush fire to the hurricane of 1938.  Meanwhile, he also introduces family, friends, and neighbors, adds Nana Fall River to his already well-known Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, remembers his first day of school (“ ‘ When do we learn to read?’  I asked.  ‘Oh, we don’t learn how to read in kindergarten.  We learn to read next year, in first grade.’  ‘Fine,’ I said.  ‘I’ll be back next year.’  And I walked right out of school.”), recalls holidays, and explains his indignation when the plot of Disney’s “Snow White” doesn’t match the story he knows.  Generously illustrated with vignettes and larger scenes, this cheery, well-knit narrative proves that an old dog can learn new tricks, and learn them surpassingly well.  (Autobiography.  7-9)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23246-X

Page Count: 58

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1999

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