A sampler worth sampling, despite pallid illustrations and a roster entirely made up of dead or veteran poets.
Kitted out—as usual for volumes in the Poetry for Young People series—with biographical headers and an outstanding introductory overview, the 33 short selections follow a generally chronological course. Atypically, the editors steer largely clear of explicit racial or religious themes in their selections. Phillis Wheatley’s pointed “Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain, / May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train,” and James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation” stand as exceptions. Along with contributions from James Baldwin and Richard Wright (both better known for their prose), notable additions to the standard African-American poetic canon include 19th-century writers George Moses Horton and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. More-recent meditations from Melvin Dixon (b. 1950) and Elizabeth Alexander (b. 1962) also help to freshen up the collection. Sadly, what vivacity these poems retain is sucked dry by Barbour’s monotonous successions of sad, big-eyed faces and drably colored collages.
Well-intentioned, and at least as valuable for its editorial additions as its lyric contents. (index) (Poetry. 10-13)