Souls Look Back in Wonder, illustrated by Tom Feelings, is a collection of poems by various Black poets (including Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and Walter Dean Myers) that all have messages of uplifting Black children and encouraging them to embrace their blackness and their culture. I was drawn to the rich, colorful illustrations that convey meaning and emotion to every poem featured in this book; I was also drawn to the powerful words targeted at Black youth who already have very little representation in children’s literature, let alone children’s poetry.
Tom Feelings art style for this book of poems emphasizes the beauty of Black children. The colors he uses are warm and vibrant and inviting to the reader (the illustrations usually take up the whole page with no gutters), and he uses all shades of brown for his people. The illustrations give meaning to the poems, and can give the reader insight into different interpretations of the words. Feelings uses shape and color to create interesting compositions and illustrations for the poems and brings life to his Black characters, who are often seen doing activities that regular youth do.
The poems that the illustrator selected to include in this collection of poems speak to the experiences and feelings that young Black children might have, and it shows them that someone understands their identity and what they might be going through. Every poem, explicitly or not, includes messages about self-love of your skin color and your heritage. The poems have been crafted and put together so that the book reads as the hopes and dreams and loves of Black children and it makes poetry relatable and in one’s reach, especially to children who may not have been exposed to poetry as a form of literature before. The poems address advanced struggles of identity and the future that speak to teenagers, but they can definitely be appreciated by younger elementary students as well. The poems are short but powerful, and an excellent introductory piece of poetry in any classroom for Black History Month.
Souls Look Back in Wonder is a great book to introduce poetry to young readers and the illustrations make the poems interesting and relatable. Especially poignant about this collection is its aim at Black youth to get them to love themselves and their blackness and to embrace where they come from. Diversity is needed in children’s literature, especially in poetry so that it is more accessible to all children, and this book does a nice job of this.
Posted by Ashanti Charles
Take a trip back in time with Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph. Using a collection of original poems, writer Roxanne Orgill tells the stories of jazz musicians like Thelonious Monk, Rex Stewart, and Maxine Sullivan who all gathered one day on 126th Street.
This story started with an idea—all the good ones do—and this idea was a spectacular one in its own right. As told in the book’s introduction, Art Kane, in 1958, decided to take a picture. But not just any picture mind you, but rather a picture containing as many American jazz musicians as possible. Not even owning a camera, Art Kane partnered with Esquire magazine to help make this photograph a good one.
Armed with the Francis Vallejo’s tantalizing artwork, Orgill tosses us lightly onto those sun-bathed sidewalks, surrounded by laughter, chatter, and smiles. We are no longer viewing the book from 2016, because we are standing next to Rex Stewart as he passes a small cornet to a little boy named Leroy. We are standing next to a group of men wondering where Duke Ellington is at the moment. We are comforting a frantic photographer who is attempting, without prevail, to get everyone’s attention.
This is a great book to remind kids that history isn’t dead. Instead history is in the poetry found between the covers of a book, or in Vallejo’s exquisite illustrations, or in the smooth jazz that they might hear in an elevator, or even in a single photograph.
Post by: Stephanie Thompson
That not only means that it’s time for the weekend, it’s also time for Free Fridays! This Free Friday is dedicated to Malathai Iyengar’s Tan to Tamarind: poems about the color brown. Tan to Tamarind explores the different shades of brown and the cultures that are often associated with people of those shades. Each poem is short and paired with a full page illustration depicting people of that culture in action. For example, the poem “Cocoa” depicts darker skinned African Americans and a young African American boy sipping on a cup of hot cocoa. The poems include light shades, such as sepia, representing Chinese culture, to dark shades like Cocoa and shades in between, like Sienna, representing Southwestern American culture.
Tan to Tamarind is a delightful way for children of color and children from various cultural backgrounds to see themselves represented in literature. Having diversity in children’s literature is crucial for children to form positive identities, and increases the joy that comes for reading books.
This book can be used in different ways. Teachers in a classroom can pair this book with lessons on cultures in different countries and within our own. It would also make a wonderful addition to children’s home and personal libraries. The poems are short, making it ideal for kids to read on their own or with their parents. It also provides a good opportunity for children to explore their own heritage and cultures.
I am so glad that I came across this book. It made me happy to see such a unique book celebrating children of color and their uniqueness.
This weekend, take the time to explore a new culture and reconnect with your own. Happy Friday!
Under the Freedom Tree
By: Susan VanHecke Illustrated by: London Ladd
Through free verse poetry and bold illustrations, Susan VanHecke and London Ladd work together to share the story of the end of slavery. Beginning in 1861, Frank, James, and Shepard embark on their journey to escape slavery. The men end up in Slabtown, settling with other escaped slaves. There they worked to better their lives and teach their children to read. In 1863, under the freedom tree, they learn the news of the Emancipation Proclamation and that all slaves are freed!
This book has an unusual writing style in that it is written in free verse poetry. The rhythm of the poetry allows for a nice ability to be read aloud. Poetry can be tricky in books as aspects of the story could be left out for sake of keeping rhythm, but this book does a nice job of carrying on the plot and giving detailed information.
The illustrations are appear like paintings; in places you can see the texture of the canvas show through the designs. The coloring of the illustrations match the plot, like when they are escaping through the night, the scenes are dark, and when they are working very hard, the scenes are red, dirty with soil and bricks. The African Americans are depicted correctly for the time and in a positive way, but the faces could have more detail to really make them lifelike.
Overall, this picture book uses poetry and striking illustrations to depict the Civil War and many African Americans’ escape from slavery. This would be a good book for a teacher’s unit on the end of slavery for older elementary grades. Poetry can be complex, so it would best be read to the older elementary grades so they can appreciate it. It could even be used in a poetry unit to show that all poetry does not have to rhyme. The descriptive vocabulary would be good for teaching tier 2 vocabulary, such as “glinting” and “weary” to help students broaden their vocabulary and better understand the book. We enjoyed reading this book and would definitely recommend it for teachers to have as part of their classroom libraries!
-Holly Reichert and Lauren Patrowsky
Sing to the Sun is a collection of poems celebrating and depicting different aspects of African American culture. The topics cover everything from music to nature, African heritage, family, play, and other aspects of everyday life. The poems “Granny” and “The Black Birds’ Party” are written in the classic African call and response style, making it a fabulous read-aloud. The poems are all very joyful and vibrant, in keeping with the title of the collection. Kids of all ages should enjoy and be able to relate to these poems.
The illustrations are done in a brightly colored, African-inspired style, and there is at least one illustration for every poem. Just like the poems, Bryan’s contrast of vivid warm and cool colors is sure to put a smile on your face.
Because of the numerous references to family and African heritage, this book could be a good tool in a social studies class for young children. It could be used to tie parts of our everyday lives to the lives of ancestors who came long, long before us. The tradition of call and response is just one example. This connection could also be made with songs children are used to singing, games they play, hairstyles they are used to seeing, and art they enjoy.
This book would also work just fine as a simple soul-lifter on a dreary Monday morning. Whatever your purpose in reading them, I hope you enjoy these poems.
“Sing to the Sun
It will listen
And warm your words
Your joy will rise
Like the sun
-Sing to the Sun, Sing to the Sun by Ashley Bryan
Post by Hallie
If I Never Forever Endeavor is a fabulous poetry book written by Holly Meade.
It tells the story of a little bird who is scared to try out his new wings. With a little encouragement and some practice, he learns to fly and experiences life!
If in all of forever
I never endeavor
to fly, I won’t know if I can.
If I did endeavor, and found my wings clever,
I could see the world!
My nest is so nice
the nicest of nests.
Who needs to fly- ever?
I think I’ll forget
all about this “endeavor.”
I won’t know how it feels to
scallop the air
with a dip
and a glide.
This book has beautiful, patterned illustrations. The poems on each page can be read and interpreted separately or the book can be read as one whole story. It is an inspiring picture book and would be great for children of all ages!
Friends of a feather,
I say, endeavor and