Harlem is a poem written by Walter Dean Myers with illustrations by Christopher Myers. This Caldecott Honor book shares the deep culture and history of Harlem through both its poetry and illustrations. The poem first starts by describing the journey to Harlem, mentioning beginnings in Georgia and Goree Island, where many slaves originated. Harlem is described as this place of promise, and Meyers continues by talking about their music, and its origins in African countries. There is a focus on the blues and its beginnings in Harlem and the impact that it makes on the community. Many iconic Black men of the time are mentioned, from Jack Johnson to W.E.B Du Boise. The poem covers many aspects of the culture in Harlem and shares insight on what it was like to be a Black American in the 1920s.
The illustrations are vibrant and unique and help the understanding of the poem while sharing Harlem’s story. The people in the book have different shades of skin tones, and many have the same stern facial expressions, showing diversity and unity. The backgrounds on some pages almost seem patched together, representing how all the different aspects of Harlem come together. Some illustrations take up the full page, while others are framed, drawing the reader in. They also represent parts of Harlem’s culture, like the buildings and streets, a woman braiding a young girl’s hair, collared greens, and more.
As the conversation of more diverse representation in books continues, I think this book is wonderful view into black culture and its history. I think this book would be great for older children learning about Harlem to help broaden their understanding.
Posted by Neena Kapoor