Friday, February 27, 2009

Review: My People

by Langston Hughes, photographs by Charles R. Smith, Jr. Simon & Schuster, 2009. Advanced Review Copy.

I was so excited to get the chance to look at this beautiful picture book matching stunning photographs with one of my favorite Langston Hughes poems "My People". When I was teaching first grade I used to have the children learn this lovely poem in Readers-Writers Workshop. It is so perfectly balanced, lyrical and joyful the children were delighted to read it over and over until they had it memorized. We put it up on the big screen, printed it out on paper and illustrated it, copied it into their notebooks, and read it in chorus or individually through out the day. As Charles R. Smith Jr. says in his afterword in this volume, "At just thirty-three words total, the poem is a study in simplicity..." It is Hughes at his best. I think my favorite lines are:

"Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also are the souls of my people."

(read the full poem here)

Celebrating the beauty of African American people, it is a natural for a book of photos of people laughing, gazing, thinking deeply, loving each other and delighting in wonder. Smith says, "To me, the words celebrate black people of differing shades and age, so I wanted to show skin color as bright as the sun and as dark as the nights: I wanted to show the newness of a newborn smile and the wisdom of wrinkled skin." I have read over "My People" again and again, drinking in the poetry and the beauty. This is a book to share with the children in your life and also to pull out on a rainy day and soak in the sunshine all on your own. Keep it handy.

Charles R. Smith, Jr. is a poet as well as a photographer. He's written a long list of books for children from infants to teens, including board books full of charming baby photographs, to poetry for all ages (many about sports, particularly basketball) and a Young Adult novel. He has a great website where you can listen to him read his poetry (scroll halfway down that page and click on "I am a Poet Remix" from the album "Portrait of a Poet" for a real treat), view a list of his books, and find out about school visits. He's also got a page of activities for kids writing poetry in the classroom. He is definitely on my list of poet/authors I'd like to have come to my school. You can read his bio, find out how handsome he is, and read an interview where he talks about his writing process and poetry at the Library of Congress website.

If you are looking for more great children's books on the African American experience take a look at this list at School Library Journal.

The Friday Poetry round up is over at Mommy's Favorite Children's Books today. If you are posting about poetry please join in. Everyone please take some time today to read and Enjoy!


Mary Lee said...

This sounds like a FABULOUS book! Thanks for the heads up!

susan said...

Love this. Will be linking this. Thanks cloudscome.

Anonymous said...

I am interested in seeing how they produced a full-length picture book from only 33 words!

Thanks for sharing this, Andi. The poem is lovely. I particularly like the use of "So" in the way that Hughes used it.

jama said...

Thanks for featuring this book today. It looks wonderful.

tanita✿davis said...

I love photographic essays matched with poetry. The cover of this book is already a WIN. Gorgeous.

Karen Edmisten said...

Beautiful, also, is your post. Adding this book to my list.

Elaine Magliaro said...


Thanks for the link to Smith's website. Langston Hughes is one of my favorite poets. I love his book The Dream Keeper. I used to share the poems in the book with my elementary students.