Harlem: A Poem

Overview

Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and James Baldwin have sung their songs about Harlem. Now Newbery Honor author Walter Dean Myers joins their chorus in calling to life the deep, rich and hope-filled history of this community. Christopher Myers' boldly assembled art resonates with feeling and tells a tale all its own. The words and pictures together connect readers of all ages to the spirit of Harlem in its music, art, literature, and everyday life. Author and illustrator tour. ...
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Overview

Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and James Baldwin have sung their songs about Harlem. Now Newbery Honor author Walter Dean Myers joins their chorus in calling to life the deep, rich and hope-filled history of this community. Christopher Myers' boldly assembled art resonates with feeling and tells a tale all its own. The words and pictures together connect readers of all ages to the spirit of Harlem in its music, art, literature, and everyday life. Author and illustrator tour.

A poem celebrating the people, sights, and sounds of Harlem.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A hot new artist and his distinguished father fashion a picture book with a stirring sound at its center" - Kirkus Reviews

"The two Myerses - author and artist, father and son - celebrate Harlem in different complementary ways; the author, in his poetic text, offers the city as a symbol of African American aspiration and predominantly music-based culture; the artist sees a concrete city composed of "colors loud enough to be heard.
. . . Harlem as a visual experience that YAs will return to again and again, to admire and wonder at what is realized with truly extraordinary grace and power by this young artist of such wonderful promise." - Booklist *starred review

"A visually striking, oversized picture book.
. . . this is an arresting and heartfelt tribute to a well-known, but little understood community." - School Library Journal

"This is one of those rare pairings of words and images in which each gains from the other, resulting in a fine, balanced collaboration." - Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
This heartfelt tribute captures the many moods of Harlem, bringing to life a very real urban community steeped in cultural history. Myers begins his poem with the words "Harlem was a promise/ Of a better life, of a place where a man didn't/ Have to know his place/ Simply because he was/ Black"; this cautious optimism informs the text. Children play on sidewalks and the smell of barbecue lingers. But there is sadness too-a "fleet of funeral cars" or "endless depths of pain/ Singing a capella on the street corners." Throughout, the past overlays the present, like a legacy passed down ("A journey on the A train/ That started on the banks of the Niger/ And has not ended"). Dreams dreamed in present-day Harlem are a part of this continuum, and music is the means of expression. The text pays homage to the "weary blues that Langston knew/ And Countee sung"; to Sunday night gospel music and Lady Day on the radio. Christopher Myers, who previously illustrated his father's Shadow of the Red Moon, delivers bold collages that are both stark and lyrical. People stare out of his paintings, challenging or appealing to the viewer, or lost in reverie. Rough cut paper and daubed paint combine to create a raw immediacy. This is by no means an easy book-most of the allusions, if not the poem's significance itself, will need to be explained to children-but its artistic integrity is unmistakable; the effort its presentation to young readers may require is worth it.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This heartfelt tribute captures the many moods of Harlem, bringing to life a very real urban community steeped in cultural history. Myers begins his poem with the words "Harlem was a promise/ Of a better life, of a place where a man didn't/ Have to know his place/ Simply because he was/ Black"; this cautious optimism informs the text. Children play on sidewalks and the smell of barbecue lingers. But there is sadness too-a "fleet of funeral cars" or "endless depths of pain/ Singing a capella on the street corners." Throughout, the past overlays the present, like a legacy passed down ("A journey on the A train/ That started on the banks of the Niger/ And has not ended"). Dreams dreamed in present-day Harlem are a part of this continuum, and music is the means of expression. The text pays homage to the "weary blues that Langston knew/ And Countee sung"; to Sunday night gospel music and Lady Day on the radio. Christopher Myers, who previously illustrated his father's Shadow of the Red Moon, delivers bold collages that are both stark and lyrical. People stare out of his paintings, challenging or appealing to the viewer, or lost in reverie. Rough cut paper and daubed paint combine to create a raw immediacy. This is by no means an easy book-most of the allusions, if not the poem's significance itself, will need to be explained to children-but its artistic integrity is unmistakable; the effort its presentation to young readers may require is worth it. Ages 5-up. (Feb.)
Children's Literature - Rebecca Joseph
The father and son-Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers have outdone themselves in this spectacular book. The Walter Dean has written a lovely poem about the rich history of Harlem, ."..a promise / Of a better life, of a place where a man didn't / Have to know his place / Simply because he was / Black." Not only is the journey of African-Americans to Harlem and their lives described lyrically in words but also it is beautifully illustrated in Christopher Myers' vivid collage art. The pictures tell their own story of the powerful impact Harlem had on the lives of its residents.
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
Walter Dean Myers and his son Christopher have created a moving tribute to Harlem. Walter's poem pulsates with the jazzy rhythms and street sounds, the color and the people that make Harlem distinctive. Christopher's collage paintings interpret the text with powerful images of strong men, thoughtful women, and carefree children playing in the street, their playground. The colors are suffused with shadings that create a sense of movement, that startle and yet please. If ever a book was Caldecott calibre, this is it, Harlem. Listen to the words: "They brought a call, a song/ First heard in the villages of/ Ghana/ Mali/ Senegal/ Calls and songs and shouts/ Heavy hearted tambourine rhythms/ Looses in the hard city/ Like a scream torn from the throat of an ancient clarinet..."
VOYA - Alison Kastner
This father and son team takes us on a guided tour of Harlem: the younger member shows us the sights with the use of ink, gouache, and collage, while the elder uses language to trace threads from around the world and throughout history that make up the tapestry of this special place. The artwork gives one the sensation of being a privileged outsider allowed a closer look: People peer underneath frames as though regarding the reader. Texture and a strong sense of perspective add depth. Some full-page spreads are followed by smaller frames, almost as though we had returned from out tour and are now looking at a scrapbook of photographs. Children abandoning themselves to the joy of playing in an open fire hydrant, a woman spreading her arms as if in flight, blocks of strong color-all emphasize the passion of the accompanying poetry. While the illustrations focus on color and texture, a recurrent theme in the text is sound: "Heavy hearted tambourine rhythms/Loosed in the hard city/Like a scream torn from the throat/Of an ancient clarinet." The author notes "colors loud enough to be heard" and "lilt/Tempo, cadence/A language of darkness." These sensual elements combine to create a vivid picture of a vibrant community. References to famous people and places-Lady Day, Smalls, the Cotton Club, Mintons, Striver's Row-add an almost mythical quality to this tribute. These allusions excite the reader's curiosity. Neither author nor illustrator let the tone become idealistically romantic though. One illustration focuses on the white-gloved hands of casket bearers, and we are told, "Sometimes despair makes/The stoops shudder." Harlem will find many fans among YAs. Take the opportunity to introduce and talk about this book. VOYA Codes: 5Q 3P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Will appeal with pushing, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up-A visually striking, oversized picture book. Walter Dean Myers's songlike poem relates the story of a group of people who settled in New York City, hoping to improve their lots in life, only to discover that racism could still keep them from achieving success. Well-known Harlem landmarks, such as the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater, are mentioned, as are famous African Americans, like Langston Hughes and Joe Louis. The pain of discrimination is made abundantly clear through Myers's forceful, often bitter words. The pride and determination of the people of Harlem are also demonstrated, as is their at times overwhelming despair. The bold collage and ink drawings complement the text well. Although the book paints a vibrant picture of the area and its residents, it is difficult to imagine its proposed audience. Many young people will not be able to grasp the subtleties and imagery of the poem or understand its frequent cultural references. The artwork is fresh and eye-catching, but it, too, is sophisticated. Overall, this is an arresting and heartfelt tribute to a well-known, but little understood, community that may take a bit of effort to sell.-Melissa Hudak, North Suburban District Library, Roscoe, IL
Kirkus Reviews
A hot new artist and his distinguished father fashion a picture book with a stirring sound at its center. Walter Dean Myers (Slam!, p. 1536, etc.) gives poetry a jazz backbeat to tell the story of Harlem, the historic center of African-American culture in New York City. To newcomers from Waycross, Georgia, from East St. Louis, from Trinidad, "Harlem was a promise." Listing the streets and the churches, naming Langston and Countee, Shango and Jesus, the text is rich with allusion. The imagery springs to life at once: "Ring-a-levio warriors/Stickball heroes"; "a full lipped, full hipped/Saint washing collard greens . . . Backing up Lady Day on the radio." A strong series of images of ink and gouache capture the beauty of faces, from the very old to very young, from golden to blue- black. Christopher Myers sets his scenes to match the streets, fire escapes, jazz clubs, and kitchens of Harlem, and makes them by turns starkly stylized as an Egyptian mask or sweet as a stained glass window. Put this on the shelf next to Chris Raschka's Charlie Parker Played Be-Bop (1992) and see if anyone can sit still when the book is read aloud.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780590543408
  • Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/28/1997
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 247,036
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.49 (w) x 12.28 (h) x 0.36 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter Dean Myers is the 2012 - 2013 National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. He is the critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author an award-winning body of work which includes, SOMEWHERE IN THE DARKNESS, SLAM!, and MONSTER. Mr. Myers has received two Newbery Honor medals, five Coretta Scott King Author Awards, and three National Book Award Finalists citations. In addition, he is the winner of the first Michael L. Printz Award. He lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.
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