Saturday, June 19, 2010

Book Review: My People by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Charles R. Smith Jr

Book: My People
Author: Langston Hughes
Illustrator: Charles R. Smith Jr
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

One of Langston Hughes' most emotional and shortest poems is brought to life by Smith's glorious photography of African-American faces--men and women, all ages, smiling, solemn, serene, and silly.

This book won the Coretta Scott King award this year at the ALA Youth Media Awards, and it's richly deserved. Looking over the photographs, I realized to my astonishment that they were all in sepia tones. Somehow, their richness and beauty had overwhelmed my memory of the monochromatic style. My favorite part was the way he used parts of the photographs to illustrate the concepts in the poem. For instance, instead of a starry night for the line, "the stars are beautiful," Smith photographs the sparkling clips in a little girl's dark hair. And "Beautiful, also, the sun" was paired with two shining faces, tipped upward as if to a noonday sun. Wowee.

While the length of this book would ordinarily make me put it in a storytime collection, I stopped. The deep emotions and abstract concepts embedded in the poem text seem above the library's storytime age, as well as the crowd setting. It's a more intimate book, one that asks for discussion and contemplation. I would most definitely read it to a school-age group, along with a discussion of the poem itself, as well as Langston Hughes' life and work. What do you think? Who would you read this book with?

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