The Blacker the Berry: Poems


We are color struck
The way an artist strikes
His canvas with his brush of many hues

Look closely at these mirrors these palettes of skin
Each color is rich in its own right

Black is dazzling and distinctive, like toasted wheat berry bread; snowberries in the fall; rich, red cranberries; and the bronzed ...

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We are color struck
The way an artist strikes
His canvas with his brush of many hues

Look closely at these mirrors these palettes of skin
Each color is rich in its own right

Black is dazzling and distinctive, like toasted wheat berry bread; snowberries in the fall; rich, red cranberries; and the bronzed last leaves of summer. In this lyrical and luminous collection, Coretta Scott King honorees Joyce Carol Thomas and Floyd Cooper celebrate these many shades of black beautifully.

A collection of poems, including "Golden Goodness," "Cranberry Red," and "Biscuit Brown," celebrating individuality and Afro-American identity.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Meagan Albright
This book is rich—rich in imagery and metaphors, rich in languid and lyrical text, rich in illustrations imbued with purple, black, brown and a myriad of other colors. The images, the carefully selected words, the symmetry and symbolism come together to create a beautiful and vivid collection of poems describing the many shades of black. This book, quiet yet intense, resonates with readers. Each poem, built around the many hues and types of berries, is worthy of standing on its own. Still, the full strength of the book comes from reading it in its entirety, with each poem providing a base for the next by adding depth and understanding to the text. This book is highly recommended for purchase for public libraries and school media centers. Teachers and librarians are sure to use it during February for Black History Month, but a book this good should be celebrated throughout the year. Reviewer: Meagan Albright
School Library Journal

Gr 1-4

The varieties of African-American ethnic heritage are often rendered invisible by the rigid construction of racial identity that insists on polarities. This collection of 12 poems makes the complexities of a layered heritage visible and the many skin shades celebrated. Read-aloud-sized spreads offer luminous artwork that complements the verses in which children speak of their various hues: "I am midnight and berries..." a child says in the title poem. In another selection, a boy recalls his Seminole grandmother who has given him the color of "red raspberries stirred into blackberries." In "Cranberry Red," a child asserts that "it's my Irish ancestors/Who reddened the Africa in my face," understanding that "When we measure who we are/We don't leave anybody out." The large illustrations match the lyrical poetry's emotional range. Cooper's method includes "pulling" the drawing out from a background of oil paint and glazes. With his subtractive method, he captures the joy of these children-the sparkle of an eye, the width of a grin, the lovely depths of their skin, and the light that radiates from within. This book complements titles that explore identity, such as Katie Kissinger's All the Colors We Are (Redleaf, 1994).-Teresa Pfeifer, Alfred Zanetti Montessori Magnet School, Springfield, MA

Kirkus Reviews
"What shade is human?" Thomas's evocative, colorful poetry seeks to answer that question with this celebration of the diversity of African-American children across the spectrum. From "Raspberry Black" to "Golden Goodness," Cooper's soft and realistic illustrations almost leap from the page, incorporating natural images from the text in their depiction of a gallery of beautiful, self-confident children. Difficult intraracial social issues related to skin color are handled with truth and respect. For instance, in the poem "Snowberries," a fair-skinned child speaks back to those who would question her identity: "The words cut deep down / Beyond the bone / Beneath my snowy skin / Deep down where no one can see / I bleed the ‘one drop of blood' / That makes Black me." On the page opposite, an auburn-haired girl smiles at the reader, eyes twinkling. An essential picture book that helps young children understand and appreciate differences in skin color. As the epigraph states so truthfully, "Colors, without black, / couldn't sparkle quite so bright." (Picture book/poetry. 5-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060253752
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/1/2008
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 494,170
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 11.48 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.34 (d)

Meet the Author

Joyce Carol Thomas is an internationally renowned author who received the National Book Award for her first novel, Marked By Fire, and a Coretta Scott King Honor for The Blacker the Berry and for her first picture book, Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea. Her picture book I Have Heard of a Land received a Coretta Scott King Honor and an IRA/CBC Teachers' Choice Award and was an ALA Notable Book. Her other titles include The Gospel Cinderella, Crowning Glory, Gingerbread Days, and A Gathering of Flowers. Ms. Thomas lives in Berkeley, California.

Floyd Cooper received a Coretta Scott King Award for his illustrations in The Blacker the Berry and a Coretta Scott King Honor for his illustrations in Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea and I Have Heard of a Land. Born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Mr. Cooper received a degree in fine arts from the University of Oklahoma and, after graduating, worked as an artist for a major greeting card company. In 1984 he came to New York City to pursue a career as an illustrator of books and now lives in Easton, Pennsylvania, with his wife and children.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A great book for grades 1-4

    This was a fun book to read, not just because of the simple but educational poetry, but also because the artwork is engaging. It must have taken Cooper a long time to paint them because of their photo-realistic quality. It's also a great book for young African American children to read in order to see the differences in their culture and why some of their own kin may look completely different than they do. I especially liked the line where a girl claims to be "cranberry red" from her father's Irish heritage. I recommend it to learning readers from ages 3 - 8.

    -Lindsey Miller,

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2009

    Love Yourself!

    I just love this book. Grand children should learn the Black Americans come in a varied of shades of black.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2009



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  • Posted March 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The Blacker the Berry--Poetry and Winner

    Thomas, J.C. (2008). The Blacker the Berry. New York: Joanna Cotler Books.


    The Blacker the Berry features twelve poems written by Joyce Carol Thomas complimenting different shades of skin color and connecting those colors with similes and metaphors of foods-mostly berries.

    While the actual content of the picturebook is far from tense, there is building in the sense that the final poem incorporates all of the children previously described.

    Issues explored through the poems include the ideas of 'passing' as white, ethnic identity, connection to the past, ways of peacefully resisting negative perceptions, etc. All of these could become points to discuss with a class.

    This picturebook won the Coretta Scott King Award this year for the illustrations. The pictures feature African American children with a range of skin tones in natural environments, doing a number of activities, almost always smiling. The picturebook naturalizes blackness and presents as many different skin tones as possible positively.

    Activities to do with the book:

    Children could write poems about their own skin color and that of their friends and loved ones and create illustrations to accompany them. A lighter writing option could be to write about favorite foods and how people resemble them in physical characteristics and personality.

    A teacher can also use these poems for examples of images and metaphors.

    Students could also discuss the issues presented by the poems in class or small groups as well as offer their own narratives triggered by those discussions.

    Favorite Quotes:

    "Day couldn't dawn without the night
    Colors, without black, couldn't sparkle
    quite so bright"

    "It feels absolutely fabulous
    To be this brown
    Anyway, I refuse to walk too long in shadow"

    "We are color struck
    The way an artist strikes
    His canvas with his brush of many hues"

    For more of my reviews, visit

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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