A brilliant visual association between Hughes’ poem and the history of the Pullman porters illuminates a chapter of American history but gets bogged down in backmatter explaining its metaphors.
The pagination sets a logical, steady pace for a loose visual narrative, opening with a train speeding past foregrounded cotton fields. The next spread is dominated by a portrait of a Pullman porter, with an American flag that the backmatter describes as a “light veil” over his face, and a glimpse of workers in the kitchen car. From there, the porters work with dignity “and grow strong” from scene to scene, until a wordless spread depicts a porter standing on the deck of the caboose and letting papers drift from his hands as though he were sending out a message of hard work, dignity and pride. Subsequent spreads, with recurring visual references to the American flag, feature scenes of people outside, in cities and on trains. Backmatter works hard (with far too much hand-holding) to explain what all of these flag references are supposed to convey. In all, it's a beautiful visual interpretation of Hughes’s poem that fails to trust readers enough to let them come to their own understanding of the interplay of art and text.
Enjoy the poem and the illustrations; skip the instructions. (Picture book. 8 & up)