This week, I’m celebrating the rich contributions to the arts made by courageous, persevering African Americans, starting with dance:
My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey, by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome
published in 2015, A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
This is the stirring, inspirational story of Robert Battle, a young man who overcame so many obstacles to become a brilliant dancer, award-winning choreographer, and ultimately the artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. His personal story and the story of the expression of African American stories on the dance stage are immensely powerful.
I was captivated not only by Robert’s passionate pursuit of his dream, but by the array of people in his life who helped him along the way. James Ransome has chosen to illustrated it in vibrant pastels. I particularly love the figurative studies on the endpapers and in one interior spread! Ages 6 and up.
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton, written and illustrated by Don Tate
published in 2015 by Peachtree
George Moses Horton was a slave in North Carolina with a thirst for the riches of words and language from his childhood. Being prohibited by his master from learning to read, George managed to teach himself through sheer inventiveness and unflagging effort.
Then, he went on to do glorious things with his words. Composing his own poetry sustained him over a lifetime of adversity. What an intriguing, yet difficult life he led, bursting with creativity but fettered by enslavement. I am so glad to have met this incredible man through this book. Don Tate’s luminous paintings are remarkably welcoming. Don’t miss this one, for ages 4 and up.
Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Raul Colón
published in 2014 by Alfred A. Knopf
Raul Colón’s stunning artwork transfixes us as we’re immersed in this magnificent account of a young Mississippi-poor girl who rose to become a Metropolitan Opera star.
The Price family home swirled with music, Marian Anderson broke through barriers that inspired, teachers along the way recognized outstanding talent, but it was Leontyne herself who practiced and persevered. She gifted the world with her fabulous voice and paved the way for African American opera singers who followed. A glorious story for ages 4 and up.
Ira’s Shakespeare Dream, by Glenda Armand, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
published in 2015 by Lee & Low Books
Ira Aldridge’s life story dates back the farthest of the artists on today’s list. Born in 1807, he was fortunate to live in New York City where he was able to attend the African Free School. There he was introduced to the great William Shakespeare, and there his dreams of becoming a Shakespearean actor were born.
Aldridge had to buck not only racism but his father’s wishes in order to pursue his theatrical path, and finally had even to leave family and home, to move to England where possibilities for black actors actually existed. With indefatigable perseverance, Aldridge went on to become an astonishing success.
Floyd Cooper’s handsome, soft illustrations bring Aldridge and his world alive. Ages 5 and up.
Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews, by Kathleen Benson, illustrated with paintings by Benny Andrews
published in 2015 by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Benny Andrews was a contemporary artist whose life and art drew immensely from the obstacles he and his family faced as African Americans in the sharecropping days of the ’30s. His surreal use of color and form, expressive figures –at times standing tall against their backgrounds, at times breaking forth in exuberant joy, at times, straining under oppressive burdens — are riveting.
Andrews had to overcome poverty as well as the expectation that, as a black child, he would not stay in school even through high school. His remarkable perseverance, his forward reach and simultaneous rooted commitment to home and to the ordinary, suffering people in his world, were a potent alchemy which transformed his art and his social activism.
I love that this book is illustrated with his paintings so we really meet him as we read his story. Ages 6 and up.