Posts Tagged ‘langston hughes’

So many women are told their dreams “simply can’t be done.” Today, meet a drummer, a mathematician, a primatologist and others, who persisted and realized their dreams.

Plus a tribute to mothers: In our heart of hearts, we often feel overwhelmed at this epic task — nurturing healthy human beings for our world. Women’s History Month would not be complete without celebrating motherhood.

drum dream girl cover imageDrum Dream Girl:How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music, by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López
published in 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Hot pepper oranges and Caribbean blues saturate the pages of this poetic celebration of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, the first female drummer in Cuba. As a young girl, the varied drums’ beats tantalized her, but it was taboo for women to play them.

drum dream girl illustration rafael lopez

Winner of the 2016 Pura Belpré Illustration Award, the gorgeous artwork in this book explodes with color and Cuban culture, while the text dances along lithely. Superb introduction to Millo, who became a world-famous drummer, and another example of the odd restrictions women have had to overcome with the help of a key insider. Ages 3 and up.

ada byron lovelace and the thinking machine cover imageAda Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by April Chu
published in 2015 by Creston Books

Ada, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, was a brilliant mathematician. From childhood she was mesmerized by numbers and the inventions made possible by their calculations. Ada was a child of privilege, yet had to overcome family dysfunction, a crippling illness, and her society’s conviction that math was no place for a woman.


Wallmark’s introduction is intriguing and accessible, and Chu’s handsome artwork immerses us in Ada’s world. Read about the woman who wrote the first computer program with ages 5 and up.

paiute princess cover imagePaiute Princess: The Story of Sarah Winnemucca, written and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray
published in 2012 by Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus Giroux

Sarah Winnemucca was not a princess. And her name was not really Sarah. Yet by assuming an identity the White world invented, she was able to wield her strengths for the good of her Paiute people.

This lengthy, fascinating account by award-winning author and illustrator Deborah Kogan Ray introduced me to an amazing person I had never heard of, who worked tirelessly for justice for the Paiute.

paiute princess illustration deborah kogan ray

She was a controversial figure, accepted fully by neither white culture nor her own people. I think that is often the case for peacemakers caught in the middle, searching for the best compromise this world offers. A beautiful, thought-provoking read for ages 8 and up.

irena's jars of secrets cover imageIrena’s Jars of Secrets, by Marcia Vaughan, illustrated by Ron Mazellan
published in 2011 by Lee & Low Books

Irena was a young Polish Catholic woman when World War II broke out and with horror she witnessed the beginnings of the Holocaust. As a social worker, she gained access to the Warsaw ghettos, smuggling in aid for two years until it became clear that Treblinka was in store for all who remained.

irena's jars of secrets illustration ron mazellan

Read the story of how this intrepid woman risked her life to smuggle 2500 children out to safety, and find out what role was played by two glass jars hidden under an apple tree. A riveting account with rich, atmospheric paintings, for ages 5 or 6 and up. Obviously, extermination camps are a part of this narrative, so use your judgement as to the appropriateness for young children.

florence nightingale cover imageFlorence Nightingale, written and illustrated by Demi
published in 2014 by Henry Holt and Company

Demi’s characteristically elegant treatment of her subjects turns here to Florence Nightingale, another child of privilege who used her life to benefit the poor and broken in the world.

florence nightingale interior by demi

Demi traces her life from her birth in Florence, Italy, (I never knew that is how she got her name!) through her calling as a young woman into nursing — an objectionable life for a proper lady, careful study of the care of patients, and blossoming as a leader and innovator in nursing care. It’s a brilliant account, never bogging down yet covering a vast amount of information, accompanied by intricate, appealing illustrations. An inspiration for ages 5 and up.

me...jane cove imageMe…Jane, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell
published in 2011 by Little, Brown and Company

This tender story tells of Jane Goodall’s childhood love of the great outdoors and all the wondrous natural world around her. The entire, sparkling account spins out just a few thoughts, like candy floss, magically endearing us to this dear girl, until with one turn of the last page, she is all grown up, living out her dream in Africa.

me...jane illustration patrick mcdonnell

Charming and engaging for children ages 2 and up, the story is followed by a bio written for ages 8 and up, and a wonderful, the watcher cover imagepersonal message from Jane about the opportunity for each of us to make a difference in our world. If you want to learn more about her, follow this up with another excellent account focusing more on her long work in Tanzania:

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, also published in 2011 by Schwartz & Wade and ideal for ages 3 and up.

lullaby for a black mother cover imageLullaby (for a Black Mother), by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Sean Qualls
published in 2013 by Harcourt Children’s Books

Langston’s dark-cherry sweet lullaby, a mother singing to her little dark baby, her little earth-thing, her little love-one, is marvelously illustrated in Sean Quall’s rhythmic, contemporary styling. Twilight purples and midnight blues infuse  the pages, anchored in strong shapes, textures, and inky blacks.

lullaby for a black mother illustration sean qualls

A note about Langston Hughes informs us about his sweet connection with words during a childhood of fractured relationships. Qualls conjectures about the comfort Hughes believed a mother’s lullaby could bring to a lonely boy. Read this with children ages 2 and up, and invent your own lullaby to speak your love.


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manger cover imageManger, poems selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrations by Helen Cann
published in 2014 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

An old legend imagines that midnight of Christmas-Eve brings the gift of speech to animals. If that were true, what might they say?

Iridescent-feathered rooster and wool-thick sheep, dappled horse and marmalade cat, itsy mouse, sleek dog, bulky cow, downy wren …all greet the Baby in the manger in this elegant collection of poems. An old owl and some swishy fish, a spider,  llama, goat, and  donkey join in, too, heralding, wondering, welcoming, soothing, some so struck with awe, they can hardly set thoughts to word despite this miraculous hour.

Sheep's Whisper amy ludwig vanderwater illustration helen cann

These short and very-short poems sparkle with wonder, each one exquisitely crafted by a talented poet, some commissioned just for this book by editor Lee Bennett Hopkins. Each can be appreciated by a child as young as 2, yet appeal to adults as well.

The illustrations by UK artist Helen Cann are stunning, composed of rich, deep colors of cobalt and emerald, wheat and crimson. Handsome animals in starlit settings, these are so splendid, you will want them as prints for your walls. Oh my gosh. Just check out her website for more gorgeousness. Even the endpapers are lovely. Just an all-around beautiful book, new this year.

celebration song cover imageCelebration Song, A Poem by James Berry, illustrated by Louise Brierley
published in 1994 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Your born-day is a happening day,” Mary sings to a one-year-old Jesus child, “a caller with good news, a day of celebration, a day of jubilation…All, O, all say, welcome!”

Set in the tropical heat of the Caribbean, where golden sands and aquamarine waters kiss the earth so warmly, this poem sways with the lilting rhythms of Jamaica.

It’s Jesus’ first birthday, so Mary recounts to him his own own birth story full of strange happenings, unknown messengers, and shepherds hurrying to his side. Beyond remembering the remarkable, though, Mary reveals some celebration song james berry louise brierley frontispiece 001misgivings — his born-day makes bells ring now, yet what will happen when he is grown, and what will happen when her mothering is long done? Will your day still be one long long celebration day?

Calypso patterning and exuberance mark this unusual poem from Mary’s motherly perspective. Louise Brierley’s watercolor illustrations radiate warmth, flow and billow with the jasmine breezes and mango sweetness of the islands. Her strong, noble Mary curves in a protective embrace around her beloved baby. These are deep, handsome portraits which bring a balancing hush to the hurrah of the celebration. Share this thought-provoking book with children ages 4 and up, or just get it for yourself.

carol of the brown king cover imageCarol of the Brown King: Nativity Poems by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Ashley Bryan
published in 1998 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Here are six brief nativity poems — five written by Langston Hughes, one translated by him from the Spanish as it was found on a Puerto Rican Christmas card.

In the title poem, Carol of the Brown King, Hughes simply yet meaningfully identifies with the one Wise Man who was a brown man.
Three Wise Men,
One dark like me —
Part of His Nativity
Hughes writes. In the other poems, race is not spoken of, yet happily, Ashley Bryan has illustrated all of them with predominantly African-American portraits.

carol of the brown king langston hughes ashley bryan illustration 001

Bryan’s eye-popping colors burst from the pages in vibrant African fabrics, undulating, tropical plants, confetti-colored hilltowns and blazing stars. His dignified faces grace the pages with strength, while his brilliant, patterned borders contribute to an overall sense of radiant joy.

This is a brilliant pairing of poet and artist which will bring a richer, wider, multiracial sensibility to your Christmas reflections. Ages 2 and up.

under the christmas tree cover imageUnder the Christmas Tree, poems by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
published in 2002 by HarperCollins

Celebrated poet Nikki Grimes has given us 23 poems, meandering among the sights, sounds, tastes, secrets, excitements, silences, wonders, longings and love of Christmas.

Some are a wisp of a thought, just the sparkle of a snowflake long. Some are lengthier, musing about the grand opening of the Christmas decorations box, the quiet thrill of a traditional candlelight service, or the family’s penchant for kissing under mistletoe. Her kind, generous father appears, delivering packages to neighbors, as do under the christmas tree nikki grimes and kadir nelsonneighborhood friends pelting one another with snowballs. Grandma cooks up a scrumptious Christmas dinner, and in probably my favorite poem, Rhythm Brown, the blind sax-man, hushes urban shoppers with his sweet music. Grimes writes in a wide range of mood, form, and subject matter.

To all this, add the beautiful paintings of Kadir Nelson — rich, handsome, subdued paintings that softly glow with familial love and the magical warmth of the season. Almost entirely African-American, his subjects occupy the pages with strength, security, and easy affection. Warm, amber notes flow through all the illustrations, bringing a coziness to the book even amid the chilly city nights.

It’s a winsome collection to dip into again and again, for ages 4 and up.

all for the newborn baby cover imageAll for the Newborn Baby, by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Nicola Bayley
published in 2000 by Candlewick Press

Phyllis Root tells us in her Author’s Note that her inspiration for this original “cradle song” was the same legend found in Manger (at the top of the post today.) Searching in carols and stories from around the world, she discovered many “Christmas miracle tales” which she wove into this tender lullaby, all centered around animals at Christmas.

The warm breath of the oxen, a tiny wren softly lining the manger with her feathers, and fireflies glimmering like merry stars, are just a few of the animals appearing in her verse. Swift glimpses in gently rhyming lyrics lilt along, one on each two-page spread.

Nicola Bayley is our third UK illustrator of the day and her whisper-soft watercolor illustrations are exquisite! Displayed on rich, marbelized backgrounds and featuring botanical themes, her artwork is bordered by gold frames resembling Renaissance altarpieces. Within these frames are magnificently soft, detailed paintings, sunny portraits of a merry little Jesus,all for the newborn baby illustration nicola bayley 001and utterly gentle Mary and Joseph. Along with these paintings are shadowbox style collections of flowers and insects. Poppies and butterflies, buttercups and bumblebees, leaflets and ladybugs, elegantly enhance the page like a Victorian nature notebook. I only wish there had been an Illustrator’s Note explaining her thought process behind these incredible illustrations.

The whole book feels like an enchantingly-decorated music box. Breathtaking. Enjoy it with children ages 3 and up, or give it to a new mom this Christmas. Then follow me directly to the library and check out all Nicola Bayley’s other books 🙂

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The Negro Speaks of Rivers
by Langston Hughes, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans,
and I’ve seen it’s muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Langston Hughes, the major poet of the Harlem Renaissance, was just eighteen years old when he wrote his signature poem.  Now, E.B. Lewis, whose work I admire so deeply, has illustrated the poem in a stunning picture book.

Lewis’s watercolors are drenched in light, and these scenes, in which water plays a title role, are resplendent with light dancing on wavelets, glistening in droplets on sunbaked bodies, mellowing an evening scene with a golden glow.  The depth of emotion and life-experience he packs into the  individuals in these pages — their worn feet and loving embraces and dignified faces and strong hands — is really an incredible artistic experience.

This is a gorgeous book to share with a child, but the artistry in poem and painting is anything but childlike.  Don’t miss it.

Here’s an Amazon link:  The Negro Speaks of Rivers

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