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Posts Tagged ‘harlem renaissance’

Take a piece of prose.

Filter out all sawdusty, throat-clearing, bush-beating, throw-away words. That rich, full-bodied elixir remaining? That’s poetry.

Small but mighty.

Whether you’ve shied away from poetry in the past or cherish poetry like the scent of a spring peony, I invite you to check out these superb new books, plum full of the power of words.

First up, for the youngest among us…

The Owl and the Pussy-cat, by Edward Lear, illustrated by Charlotte Voake
poem first published in 1871; illustrations copyright 2014; first U.S. edition 2017 by Candlewick

Feast upon this classic, delectable verse accompanied by the gloriously swishy, Oz-ishly emerald, tropical illustrations by one of my favorite illustrators, Charlotte Voake.

What child can resist that beautiful pea-green boat, the moonlit guitar-strumming, a land sprouting up in Bong-trees, slices of quince and one mysterious runcible spoon?

Introduce children ages 15 months and up to the ticklish wonders of words, dancing rhythms, luscious colors with this thoroughly happy piece. It’ll nestle down in their minds and entertain them their whole life long.

Steppin’ Out: Jaunty Rhymes for Playful Times, written by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Tomie DePaola
published in 2017, Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers

This collection of small poems for small people radiates charm, simplicity, and childish innocence. Wide-eyed, we step outside our door to discover, greet, soak up the sparkling pleasures of life. What a lovely breath of fresh air!

The glory of the ordinary is here. Library visits and Sunday pancakes. A dipping, diving elevator and snippety barber shop. Friends. Grandparents. Ants. Rainy days. Lin Oliver captures the grandeur of the small in her light, playful rhymes.

Tomie dePaola needs no introduction. Eminently warm and friendly illustrations, with the marvelous diversity you’d expect from him; he makes each page sing. Perfect for preschoolers. I’ve reviewed an earlier volume by this team here.

Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market, poems by Michelle Schaub, illustrated by Amy Huntington
published in 2017 by Charlesbridge

The sun’s just rising. Wooden crates of plump tomatoes and bundles of basil are loaded into the pick-up as this farm-fresh crew heads out.

All the bustle of an urban farmers’ market — stalls laden with colorful produce, tables groaning under mouthwatering bakery fare, earthy mushrooms, fiddling buskers, speckled eggs — calls to us from these short poems and sunny, lively watercolors.

While you’re enjoying the events narrated in the poetry, there are also a couple of dogs whose antics are revealed throughout the day — great fun for children to spy on. It’s an enticing, cheerful collection and a great way to get motivated to visit the farm-fresh markets popping up all over starting now. Ages 4 and up.

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, written by Kwame Alexander, Chris Colderley, and Marjory Wentworth, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
published in 2017 by Candlewick

Take a look at that cover and you’ll get a taste of the explosion of wonder, the celebration of life that’s bound up in the pages of this stunning new collection.

Award-winning author Kwame Alexander here introduces us to twenty of his favorite poets —  a marvelously-diverse grouping as you would expect — by ingenuously riffing off of their famous styles, ideas, and ethos.

The innovative lowercase lackofpunctuation styling of e.e. cummings is adopted by Alexander in a blooming poem about shoes (but really companionship). A poem basking in the earthy loveliness of a Chilean forest echoes the subject matter of Pablo Neruda. An explosion of rainbow-sherbet color, a soaring joy, thunders from a poem expressing the indomitable spirit of Maya Angelou.

Twenty original poems; twenty homages to poets. Brilliant. But that’s not all, because the heartbreakingly-beautiful artwork of Ekua Holmes — Oh, I love her work!! — thrills, rejoices, commands every page. Excellent short bios of each poet take up six additional pages. A stunner for a wide age range — 6 through teens.

Emily Dickinson: Poetry for Kids, illustrated by Christine Davenier
published in 2016 by Quarto Publishing Group

One  of the poets featured in Out of Wonder, Emily Dickinson is an American treasure, a homebody with an outsized knack for observation, a naturalist who reveled in the beauties of nature surrounding her Massachusetts home, a gingerbread-baker who treated neighborhood children but kept herself mostly to herself.

This gorgeous volume of her poetry is part of a series from MoonDance Press and Quarto introducing a variety of poets to children. It’s arranged by seasons and includes almost 3 dozen of her small poems.

French artist Christine Davenier’s exquisite watercolors fill these almond-cream pages with gems of color, graceful line, fragments of fragile beauty, as well as exultant gladness. Beautiful layouts and typography add to the immense sensory delight. Several pages of explanatory notes aid in understanding the poems. Splendid for ages 8 and older.

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance, poems by Nikki Grimes, artwork by Cozbi A. Cabrera, R. Gregory Christie, Pat Cummings, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Ebony Glenn, Nikki Grimes, E.B. Lewis, Frank Morrison, Christopher Myers, Brian Pinkney, Sean Qualls, James Ransome, Javaka Steptoe, Shadra Strickland, Elizabeth Zunon
published in 2017 by Bloomsbury

This phenomenal volume is so powerful, I really just want to say nothing more but urge you to experience it for yourself.

An amalgamation of the ideas and energy flowing out of the Harlem Renaissance, the poetic mastery of Nikki Grimes, and the artistry of a roster of gifted African American illustrators — that’s what’s bound up in this small, thought-provoking book.

I had never heard of the Golden Shovel form of poetry. Even if I tried to explain it to you, the audacious difficulty of it and ingenuous nature of it will not really land on you until you experience it in poem after poem here. Suffice it to say, it is another of the elaborate structures of poetry which frame poets in, force them to chisel and plane and bevel their words to fit the form, all of which ramps up their potency, augments the ideas.

You can see by reading down the bolded words that the Golden Shovel form involves repurposing lines from others’ poems, using them as the framework for something new. Illustration by Frank Morrison.

Grimes employs that in her riffs off of a number of poems by Renaissance poets. The original poem stands alongside Grimes’ innovation. These are deep, rich pieces with themes relevant to real children living in this challenging world. They are accompanied by gorgeous artwork in a wide variety of styles.

Illustration by Shadra Strickland

Short bios of each of the Renaissance poets and each illustrator, background on the Harlem Renaissance, and an explanation of the poetic form round out the volume. Highly recommended for ages 10 to adult. Many children will want to try their hand at this poetry form, I’m sure.

Many more wonderful volumes of poetry are listed in my Titles index — it’s the last section entitled Poetry and Lyrics.

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Each week of February — Black History Month — I’ll be posting a list of excellent titles for you to explore, grouped by topic. I’m starting out with a jazz theme. Learn and enjoy!

jazz on a saturday night cover imageJazz on a Saturday Night, by Leo and Diane Dillon
published in 2007 by The Blue Sky Press

The Dillons’ introduction to jazz is a lovely place for anyone to begin learning about this iconic American musical form.

The text of the book is brief — a rhythmic description of an epic, fictional, jazz ensemble, made up of the greats who meet up for one cool performance. It’s a Dream Team with folks like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Ella Fitzgerald. Brief bios of all 7 musicians are included in the closing pages, as well as a list of favorite recordings to get us started listening.

jazz on a saturday night illustration dillon

As always the artwork is phenomenal. The Extra Bonus Treat here is an accompanying CD made by the Dillons in which they teach us about what makes up a jazz ensemble. In under 20 minutes, the two of them talk to us conversationally — very much a Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood sort of feel — telling about each instrument. We get to hear the different kinds of sounds each one can make. Then we hear what kind of music happens when two of them play together, and then more. Finally, we hear the whole ensemble play a piece in which we can pick out the individual instruments — how clever that feels!

JazzOnASaturdayNight illustration leo and diane dillon

Kids as young as 4 or 5 can learn way more than you might guess from this understated, brilliant book. Then move on to learn about some African American jazz artists whose names are perhaps not quite as familiar, such as …

harlem's little blackbird cover image

Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills, words by Renée Watson, pictures by Christian Robinson
published in 2012 by Random House

Florence Mills was born in 1896, the daughter of former slaves. She began singing and dancing in her childhood in Washington, D.C., and went on to become one of the stars of the Harlem Renaissance.

harlems little blackbird interior watson and robinson

Read the story of this talented and generous woman, accompanied by Christian Robinson’s exciting, sizzling art, with ages 5 and up.

little melba and her big trombone cover image

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrations by Frank Morrison
published in 2014 by Lee & Low Books Inc.

Love this story of a little gal that picks up a mighty big instrument and then proceeds to dominate with it! Melba Doretta Liston was a legendary trombone player, composer, and arranger.

little melba and her big trombone illustration frank morrison

Hip, swingin’ artwork accompanies this upbeat story for ages 4 or 5 and up. A lengthy afterword fills in a lot more history for you, with a selected discography so you can hear her sound for yourself.

the little piano girl cover image

The Little Piano Girl: The Story of Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Legend, by Ann Ingalls & Maryann Macdonald, illustrated by Giselle Potter
published in 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Children

Mary Lou Williams was a child prodigy with an uncanny ability to both learn and create music from a young age. She went on to travel and boogie with the “Kings and Dukes and Earls of jazz” for almost 60 years, a phenomenal success, a rare female jazz pianist for her time, and a kind mentor for others.

the little piano girl illustration detail giselle potter

Giselle Potter’s naive illustrations are rosy-warm and appealing. Ages 4 and up.

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Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum, written and illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker
published in 2008 by Schwartz & Wade Books

Art Tatum was another child who gravitated to music and the piano at an early age. Despite severely limited vision, which grew progressively worse, Tatum was playing professionally by age 16, and went on to play, improvise, travel, record, planting his star firmly at the top of the world of jazz.

piano starts here illustration robert andrew parker

This book is written as though Tatum is narrating his life story, with a sweetly personal tone. Parker’s watercolor illustrations also convey a lovely humanness, warmth, and joy. Ages 4 and up.

There are so many more exceptional biographies available at your library of other jazz legends, so don’t stop here!

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a dance like starlight cover imageA Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream, by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
published in 2014 by Philomel Books

“On November 13, 1951, four years before singer Marian Anderson’s Metropolitan Opera debut, dancer Janet Collins became the first African American hired to perform under contract with the Metropolitan Opera.”

This  fictional story tells of a little girl who was in the audience that night, who was inspired to dream big by Miss Collins’ soaring achievement.

She’s the daughter of a seamstress who cleans and stitches costumes for a ballet school. Long days spent near the dancers during fittings and rehearsals have sparked a dream to dance. When the Dance Master notices her talent he arranges for her to join the lessons.

But the color-barrier means she has to practice in the back of the room; can’t perform onstage with the white girls. It’s hard to keep hope alive when the barriers are so high and ugly. Little wonder, then, that while watching Janet Collins perform, “hope puffs up [her] chest just a bit.”

a dance like starlight dempsey and cooper interior

It’s a lyrical, optimistic story, with a strong mama helping her daughter find wings to fly. Floyd Cooper’s tender paintings combine the softness and dazzle of a dream with the retro-realities of 1950s New York City.  Great story for all girls and their mamas, ages 5 and up.

benny goodman and teddy wilson cover imageBenny Goodman and Teddy Wilson: Taking the Stage as the First Black-and-White Jazz Band in History, by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome
published in 2014 by Holiday House

Two boys, growing up in parallel universes:

On Chicago’s West Side, Benny Goodman plays his clarinet in the synagogue marching band, practices long hours, listens to jazz.

In Tuskegee, Alabama, Teddy Wilson plays violin, oboe, clarinet and piano, practices long hours, listens to jazz.

As young men, the two make their way to New York, and there they meet up. Now their clarinet and piano swing together with the cool, mellow jazz sounds they both love. Along with their drummer, they begin recording as The Benny Goodman Trio. People love them!

But they can’t play on stage together. Black and white bands have never done such a thing. Until one evening in 1936, when they went onstage together in Chicago, and made history.

benny goodman and teddy wilson illustration james ransome

The text of this story is as snappy and jazzy and swingin’ as the music it describes. James Ransome’s vivid paintings also dance and blare with motion and color and hip 1930s crowds. It’s a stylish, energetic read for ages 6 or 7 and up.

More complete bios of Goodman and Wilson are included in the end pages, written for 12 and up, as well as a time line and 11 mini bios in a Who’s Who of Jazz.

the great migration cover imageThe Great Migration: Journey to the North, by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
published in 2011 by Amistad

Decades before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, more than a million African Americans left the South and moved North in the Great Migration.

Award-winning author Eloise Greenfield’s father boarded a train for Washington, D.C. in 1929, sending for baby Eloise and the rest of his family a month later when he’d saved enough money for their train fare.

In a series of emotive, free verse, poems, Greenfield explores the process of the great migration greenfield and gilchrist interioruprooting and journeying north towards hope and unknown. Written in various voices, we hear of the threat of the KKK that prompts people to say goodbye to loved lands; hear from grown ups and children, men and women, each with her own perspective. We ride with them on the long trip and experience the doubts, newness, dreams, weariness, hope and courage they felt.

Striking collage art by Jan Spivey Gilchrist contributes enormous strength and poignancy to the page. Combining snatches of historical photo with grainy textures, warm faces, color schemes that enhance the nostalgia, determination, and even the alone-ness of this journey, she nails the mood of each stage. Great read for ages 6 and up.

sugar hill cover imageSugar Hill: Harlem’s Historic Neighborhood, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrations by R. Gregory Christie
published in 2014 by Albert Whitman & Company

One result of the Great Migration, was that Harlem, in New York City, became a hub of new black culture and the Harlem Renaissance.

The Sugar Hill neighborhood within Harlem pulsed with the optimism, creativity, jazz and pride of its newest residents. Folks like Duke Ellington and W.E.B. Dubois, Thurgood Marshall and Lena Horne, were singing and dancing and writing and discussing  — who knew who you might encounter on a sunny stroll in Sugar Hill!

This book fairly sings with the toe-tapping rhythms of life and hope. The rhyming text surges along, just a short line on each page, before repeating a catchy refrain: Sugar Hill, Sugar Hill, Where Life is Sweet!

sugar hill weatherford and christie interior

And sweet are the illustrations! Tangy! Gorgeous, vibrant color; bold lines and shapes that zigzag with motion; people alive with exuberance; cool fonts that accentuate the pizzazz of this star-studded neighborhood.

An Author’s Note tells about the Harlem Renaissance, and a Who’s Who of Sugar Hill provides mini-bios of a dozen of its most famous residents. Awesome book. Brief enough for a two-year-old, but the history in here will sail over their heads. Consider using this to whet the appetites of older elementary students (and yourself) to explore the Harlem Renaissance in more detail.

freedom summer cover imageFreedom Summer: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer, by Deborah Wiles, illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue
published in 2001; updated with a foreword in 2014 by Atheneum

John Henry Waddell and Young Joe are best buddies.

They shell butter beans together. Swim in Fiddler’s Creek together. Slurp ice pops together. Shoot marbles together.

But they don’t go to the picture show together. Or to the Dairy Dip. Or to the town swimming pool. Because John Henry is black, and he’s not welcome in any of those places.

When a new law is passed, and Mississippi is ordered to desegregate such things as the town pool, John and Joe are elated, racing to the pool together that first morning. Joe is jazzed to be able to swim with his friend. John can hardly imagine diving into the deep, clear water.

Their hopes are crushed, however, when town officials fill the pool with asphalt rather than adhere to the law. The sting of racism strikes both boys — white and black — in this compelling cameo of Mississippi 1964.

Deborah Wiles has written a full-length novel about Freedom Summer which I’ll be featuring later this week. Having grown up in the Deep South, she experienced Jim Crow laws as a white child. The tumultuous feelings and thoughts she had at the time were hard to sort out, but she has returned to freedom summer illustration jerome lagarrigue 001Mississippi 1964 as an adult and award-winning author, and both this picture book and her novel are powerful, well-crafted pieces growing out of her research and experience.

Gorgeous acrylic paintings by Jerome Lagarrigue add immense warmth and power to the story. His palette of sun-drenched greens, summer-sky blues, nostalgic golds saturate the pages with warm camaraderie and Southern heat. Handsome figures and faces communicate dignity, glee, dejection, solidarity. Love this guy’s work.

Excellent choice for ages 4 or 5 and older. A foreword to this anniversary edition tells more about Freedom Summer for older readers.

You can find more Black History via my Subject Index. Look under History — Civil War/Slavery, and History — Black American History/Civil Rights. 

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Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring, by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca

Appalachian Spring is an American classic.  Most of us know it as a moving orchestral piece.  But it was born as a ballet, with accompaniment by a small chamber group.  To bring it into being required the efforts of three brilliant artists — a dancer/choreographer; a composer; a set artist.   Those three Americans were Martha Graham, Aaron Copland, and Isama Noguchi, and their amazing talents and collaborative efforts are the subject of this beautiful book.

It began with a dream of Martha Graham, to write a wordless story, a story told in dance, about America’s pioneers.  As she wrote the script, revising it over and over again, she asked Aaron Copland to compose the music for her ballet.  Her story had evolved into the tale of a young Pennsylvania farmer and his bride on their wedding day.  Aaron Copland discovered a Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts, as he worked, and wove the poignant melody throughout his music.  Artist Isamu Noguchi designed a set to transform the stage into the spare outlines of a tidy farmhouse, while Martha choreographed the storytelling dance movements.

It premiered in Washington, D.C., in October, 1944.

This book is written as gracefully as the motion of a dancer.  It’s simplicity reflects the mood of the art it describes.  Although the subject matter is complex, this sparsely-worded telling is quite accessible to young elementary children.  Brian Floca’s gorgeous watercolors bring alive the elegant simplicity of the ballet, as well as the particular, intriguing aspects of each artist’s contribution.  Ahhhh…he does such nice work!!    Short biographical sketches of Graham, Copland and Noguchi are included.  The book was awarded a 2010 Sibert Honor for excellence in informational children’s books, and I very much agree!

Happy Feet: The Savoy Ballroom Lindy Hoppers and Me, by Richard Michelson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

The Savoy Ballroom in Harlem opened its doors in 1926 and danced its way into history over the next 30 years.  This “Home of Happy Feet” brought about a new dance called the Lindy Hop, heard the smooth jazz vocals of a new talent named Ella Fitzgerald, stepped and spun non-stop with band leaders like Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie.  In an era when blacks and whites were barred from mingling together, the Savoy was one of the first integrated dance halls. 

Experience the heady days of the Savoy as a young boy nicknamed “Happy Feet” tells of all he sees and hears at his pop’s Shoeshine Shop located right next door.  Meet such famous Lindy Hoppers as “Musclehead” Manning, “Whitey,” “Twistmouth George,” and Big Bea as they spin and dip and flip in a swirl of energetic jive!  The story is told with hep cat, twenties-era lingo, full of its own cool beat and smooth swing.  It’s a happy, warm story of a father and son, woven in with the sparkle and sensation of the Harlem Renaissance.

The watercolor illustrations are superb!  The fab fashions of the dancers in their crisp white shirts, suspenders and snappy fedoras, high heels and swishy dresses, the classy interior of Pop’s shoeshine shop, the cool purple night and the bouyant excitement of the dance floor, all done in gorgeous, light-soaked paintings.  Lewis is a multiple-award winning illustrator and I am anxious to enjoy more of his work.  You can view some of his paintings at his website and an assortment of his illustrations at this gallery.

Barn Dance, by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, illustrated by Ted Rand

Full moon shinin’, shinin’ big and bright,
Pushin’ back the shadows, holdin’ back the night.
Not a thing stirrin’, quiet as could be,
Just the whisper of the leaves on the cottonwood tree.

Not a thing is stirring…except one curious, gangly boy, gazing out his farmhouse window at the moonlit yard…beckoned by some far-off music drifting his way on the sweet breeze.  When he follows those enchanting notes from the fiddle he finds himself in the midst of a hummin’, yeein’ , rockin’ , sockin’ good time in the barn, with the scarecrow on the fiddle, and cows and pigs whirling about; a grand bustle of do-si-do-ing field mice and flappin’ chickens!  There’s nothing to do but join right in!  A rollicking good time is had by all until the sky warms up for the coming of a new day, and everyone tiptoes his way back to his proper place.

This was a grand favorite of my kids; I cannot tell you how many times we read it.  Enough to memorize it, that’s for certain!  In my daughters’ Very Official Babysitting Trials, this book has also come out on top every time.  Rhythmic text, the magic of a midnight barn dance, Rand’s delightful, bright, exuberant pictures…plus apparently a je-ne-sais-quoi quality that pops this book to the top of kids’ lists!  Test it out on your own family.

Knockin’ On Wood: Starring Peg Leg Bates, written and illustrated by Lynne Barasch

Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates was a legendary tap dancer who entertained audiences around the world with his amazing skill…despite having only one leg. 

When Bates was just 12 he lost his leg in a cotton gin accident, but he did not lose his tenacious will to dance and to live life to the full.  Beginning with a roughly-hewn peg leg made by his uncle, Bates not only became as adept at tap dance as any two-legged dancer alive, he invented showstopping moves of his own.  Bates performed on TV, toured with the USO, and was even invited to dance for the king and queen of England.  He endured decades of racial prejudice on his tours, until he finally had the means to build his own resort in the Catskill Mountains where Black Americans were welcomed.

This story of a man who never gave up, a dancer who excelled at his art,  is told in an optimistic, pleasant style which matches Bates’ temperament.  The ink and watercolor illustrations are sunny and colorful, easily accessible to young children.  A black-and-white photo of Bates displaying one of his acrobatic moves makes a nice addition.  Intriguing, inspiring story.  You can watch historical footage of Bates’ amazing dancing on You Tube.

Footwork: The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire, by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch

Long black coat-tails and spiffy top hat; crisp white shirt and black-and-white spats.  A cane.  An umbrella.  And the fluid sway and swish and tap and shuffle of an impeccable dance routine.  That’s our picture of Fred Astaire.  How did he get his start?

Turns out it was his sister who led the way into dancing.  The Astaire family’s hopes were pinned on Adele, who at age seven was already a talented dancer.   Five-year-old Fred was more of a tag-along.  Yet he loved to dance.  Their first dance number together was as a miniature bride and groom, tap dancing on fancy wooden wedding cakes, followed by a costume change into a lobster (Fred) and champagne glass (Adele) for some more wedding cake topper dancing!  Oh my.

This brother-sister team worked hard and danced for a living through many long, difficult years.  When Adele opted to marry, at age 34,  Fred launched off into partnerships with others, including of course, Ginger Rogers, and plunged into the film industry where his tirelessly perfected dance moves have been preserved for us to enjoy.

Really interesting story, including a great list of suggestions for further reading, listening, and viewing.  Jorisch’s striking illustrations capture the fashions, architecture and ambience of vaudeville and the Roaring Twenties as well as the irrepressible grace of Fred Astaire.  Delightful!

Amazon links for these books:
Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring
Happy Feet: The Savoy Ballroom Lindy Hoppers and Me
Barn Dance! (Reading Rainbow)
Knockin’ on Wood: Starring Peg Leg Bates
Footwork: The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire

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