LANGSTON HUGHES by Alice Walker

LANGSTON HUGHES

American Poet
by , illustrated by
Age Range: 7 - 10

KIRKUS REVIEW

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. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-06-021518-6
Page count: 48pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2001




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