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LANGSTON’S TRAIN RIDE by Robert Burleigh


by Robert Burleigh & illustrated by Leonard Jenkins

Age Range: 6 - 9

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-439-35239-8
Publisher: Orchard/Scholastic

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)