In honor of Black History month, it is important to introduce our students to the lived experiences of Black Americans in the past and the present. The book I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes and illustrated by Bryan Collier illustrates and brings to life the poem “I, Too, sing America” by Langston Hughes. This book takes apart the poem and, by adding illustrations to the words, gives the reader a modern-day interpretation of the poem. Focusing on the title change from “I, Too, sing America” to I, Too, Am America it is interesting to see the shift in power that both present. By changing “sing” to “am”, the illustrator of I, Too, Am America makes an explicit statement about being American despite the difference in skin color.
Throughout the book, the illustrations take the reader on a journey through time. The illustrations begin depicting a train car and a Black man who is the server on the car. Over the image of the man in uniform, there is an American flag covering him. Based off interpretations of the poem, the reader can infer that the speaker feels smothered and silenced by America.
As the poem continues, the illustrations uplift the beauty of the poem and beautifully depict the strength and courage emitted from the speaker. The illustrations depict an image of freedom, liberty, and happiness. Also, as the poem continues, so do the illustrations begin to depict more modern times hinting at the progression of time.
As the poem comes to an end, a young boy is with his mom in a subway train looking out the window. The same flag that was present over the young man in uniform at the beginning of the book is also present here, yet this time, the young boy is able to peer through the flag.
This book would be great at a discussion on civil rights, or the history that follows Black Americans today. The illustrations and format of the book also make it very age friendly where students from a wide range of ages can access the content with the support of the illustrations. Overall, this read is a great reminder and introduction to a discussion about Black History Month, and its importance in our world today.