Friday, October 05, 2007

Review: Families; Poems Celebrating the African American Experience

I really love my job. Sitting right next to my desk is a book cart full of kid's poetry books, pulled from the shelves for the sixth grade "Poetry in Place" project. The kids are searching for poems they love and collecting them in their notebooks. I get to sit next to this wonderful collection of poetry all day long. Truth is, it's a bit distracting (in a very nice way).

I had a book all picked out for my Friday Poetry post; I have been planning to use it for a couple weeks. But this morning my eye was caught by another book that completely charmed me so I changed my plan.

I just couldn't resist posting a Langston Hughes poem from the anthology Families; Poems celebrating the African American Experience. This collection is selected by Dorothy S. Strickland and Michael R. Strickland, with illustrations by John Ward. Published by Wordsong in 1994.

The poets include Naomi F. Faust, Gwendolyn Brooks, Julia fields, Nikki Grimes, Nikki Giovanni, Eloise Greenfield, Lucille Clifton, Arnold Adoff And Lindamichellebraron, as well as Langston Hughes. The poems focus on every aspect of family life; from stories told on front porches to dinner times, bed times, visiting, traveling, missing loved ones, and bringing home new babies. They are sweet and joyful, inspiring and comforting. The illustrations are warm and inviting, showing brown skinned black children shining with love, wonder and pride. I put this book on our Christmas wish list right away.

Here is an example of a poem in this collection:

(For a Black Mother)

My Little dark baby,
My little earth-thing,
My little love-one,
what shall I sing
For your lullaby?

A necklace of stars
Winding the night.

My little black baby,
My dark body's baby,
what shall I sing
for your lullaby?

Moon, Moon,
Great diamond moon,
Kissing the night.

Oh, little dark baby,
Night black baby,

Stars, stars,
Night stars,

for your sleep-song lullaby!

-Langston Hughes

You can hear this lullaby sung by Val Gray Ward here. It's a recording titled "Rhapsody in Hughes 101". She sings several Langston Hughes poems in jazz, blues and spoken poetry. Scroll down to read the comments posted about the music and note that Nikki Giovanni speaks very highly of her work.

This week I have had two sick little boys in my family. On Tuesday night we had to make a midnight trip to the Emergency Room for my youngest due to a cough that wouldn't quit. Now he is on a nebulizer for what is probably allergy-induced asthma. I didn't sleep much at all that night and have had interrupted nights ever since. This morning at 4 am I was sitting with him, rocking him back and forth listening to him breath while staring out the window at the dark night. The warm weight of him in my arms and the sweet smell of his hair filled me with gratitude. I wish I could have sung him this lullaby the way Val Gray Ward does. I'll have to put that CD on my iPod!

The Friday Poetry round up is over at Whimsy Books today. Enjoy!


jama said...

"A necklace of stars winding the night . . ."
So beautiful. Langston Hughes keeps surprising me.

Charlotte said...

What a warm, lovely poem. I hope your baby is better! Not, of course, that he is a baby qua baby, but still..


Sara said...

Beautiful poem, and it's beautifully sung, too. I had it playing in the background while I read the poem again.

I hope your little one is all well soon.

Saints and Spinners said...

Oh, I am totally linking this for my lullabies post today.

Elaine Magliaro said...


I love the poetry of Langston Hughes. This is a lovely lullaby. I hope your son is doing well.