I, Too, Am America

Overview

Winner of the Coretta Scott King illustrator award, I, Too, Am America blends the poetic wisdom of Langston Hughes with visionary illustrations from Bryan Collier in this inspirational picture book that ...

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Overview

Winner of the Coretta Scott King illustrator award, I, Too, Am America blends the poetic wisdom of Langston Hughes with visionary illustrations from Bryan Collier in this inspirational picture book that carries the promise of equality.

I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Langston Hughes was a courageous voice of his time, and his authentic call for equality still rings true today. Beautiful paintings from Barack Obama illustrator Bryan Collier accompany and reinvent the celebrated lines of the poem "I, Too," creating a breathtaking reminder to all Americans that we are united despite our differences.

This picture book of Langston Hughes’s celebrated poem, "I, Too, Am America," is also a Common Core Text Exemplar for Poetry.

Winner of the 2013 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Caldecott Honor artist Collier (Dave the Potter) uses Hughes’s well-known poem as text for a visual history of Pullman railway porters, one of the first jobs that offered African-American men steady pay, dignity, and a ladder into the middle class. Hughes’s lines—“They send me to eat in the kitchen/ When company comes,/ But I laugh,/ And eat well,/ And grow strong”—fit beautifully with the story of the porters, giving the poem new meaning and impact. Collier’s portraits of the porters at work alternate with bold, sweeping spreads of cotton fields, onto which a porter scatters discarded books and magazines, planting knowledge along the railway lines. The story travels from South to North and from old to new, ending in Harlem, where a contemporary African-American mother rides in a subway car, her son gazing out the window. In the next spread, he’s seen in startling closeup, parting and peering between the stripes of an all-but-invisible American flag. “I, too, am America,” he says. It’s a powerful metaphor for looking at African-American history—and the issue of race in America—from the inside out. Ages 4–8. Agent: Marcia Wernick, Wernick and Pratt Agency. (May)
From the Publisher
I, Too, Am America
Langston Hughes, illus. by Bryan Collier. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4424-2008-3
Caldecott Honor artist Collier (Dave the Potter) uses Hughes’s well-known poem as text for a visual history of Pullman railway porters, one of the first jobs that offered African-American men steady pay, dignity, and a ladder into the middle class. Hughes’s lines—“They send me to eat in the kitchen/ When company comes,/ But I laugh,/ And eat well,/ And grow strong”—fit beautifully with the story of the porters, giving the poem new meaning and impact. Collier’s portraits of the porters at work alternate with bold, sweeping spreads of cotton fields, onto which a porter scatters discarded books and magazines, planting knowledge along the railway lines. The story travels from South to North and from old to new, ending in Harlem, where a contemporary African-American mother rides in a subway car, her son gazing out the window. In the next spread, he’s seen in startling closeup, parting and peering between the stripes of an all-but-invisible American flag. “I, too, am America,” he says. It’s a powerful metaphor for looking at African-American history—and the issue of race in America—from the inside out. Ages 4–8.

Publishers Weekly, March 5, 2012, *STAR

I, Too, Am America.
Hughes, Langston (Author) , Collier, Bryan (Illustrator)
May 2012. 40 p. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, $16.99. (9781442420083). 811.

A celebration of Pullman porters is the focus of this new picture-book edition of Langston Hughes’ classic poem. The collage spreads, blending oil paintings and cut paper, begin with an image of a speeding train before moving on to large portraits of African American porters serving white passengers aboard a luxury train. When the passengers leave, the porters gather left-behind items—newspapers, blues and jazz albums—and toss them from the train. Carried by the wind, the words and music fall into the hands of African Americans across the country. The final, contemporary pages show young black people celebrating their place in America and dreaming of a bright future. Collier’s long final note explains his interpretation of the poem, and with adult help, kids can look closely at what the pictures show about the porters then and now as well as Collier’s visual themes, including the recurring use of stars and stripes, which culminate in a beautiful, final close-up of a boy with his mother staring through a train window today at the starry city sky.

Booklist, April 1, 2012

Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
Short but powerful, Langston Hughes's poem, "I, Too, Sing America," has inspired Collier's visual interpretation of the poet's celebration of African-American progress in his time and his prophecy for the future. Using hard-working, dignified Pullman porters as metaphor for other African-Americans, Collier has also incorporated the stars and stripes that symbolize America. In his big mixed-media pictures (paint and collage, deftly employed), the artist constructs a train with shaded windows speeding by a cotton field, then goes inside to show porters at work in dark interiors (a striking spread shows workers in the train's galley, surrounded by collaged food, huge pots, and an accent of bright lobsters and clusters of hanging red peppers), gradually moving to scenes with more light and patches of blue sky. Then smiling porters are standing outside on the rear of the train, ready to let fly newspapers, albums, and magazines (left behind by passengers) for anybody who can catch one and learn. The sky opens wide as the train rushes by rows of cotton from the past, then city buildings that could be in the Harlem of Hughes's time. For today, Collier pictures African-Americans of all kinds in a library and a modern subway, especially a mother and her son, who look outside through a veil of stars and stripes, finally parting this transparent flag to confront the viewer directly. Collier's palette is rich with browns, blues, and dark reds, lightened with yellow and whites at the end. Stripes are everywhere—not only in shadowy flags, but also in canopies, railings, cotton rows, a library ceiling, and poles in the subway. In an endnote, the award-winning illustrator explains his symbolism and his fascination with the legendary porters, about whom he's planning a picture book featuring their lives and history. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
School Library Journal
K-Gr 5—Hughes's poem of burgeoning pride in one's African American identity, written at the height of the Harlem Renaissance in 1925, is interpreted anew in this striking picture book. Collier has visualized the message of the sparely written poem, barely 60 words in length, through the lens of a Pullman porter. "I, too, sing America" proclaims the opening spread that depicts a passenger rail car whizzing by; then, "I am the darker brother" shows an African American young man in the porter's uniform gazing squarely at readers through a faint, translucent overlay of the American flag, a recurring motif. As the porter cleans up the club car and examines the detritus—newspapers, magazines, blues, and jazz albums left by the train's well-heeled passengers—he impulsively flings it all from the caboose, scattering this knowledge to those who will willingly learn from it. Wafting through time and space, these items fall into the hands of a young female field worker in the long-ago South as well as residents in a contemporary northern urban landscape. The poem's powerful conclusion—"I, too, am America"—depicts a young boy on the subway with his mother, peering out the window through a readily visible flag toward his unknown but hopeful future. Collier's signature mixed-media collages create bold, textured images that give tangible expression to the poet's potent words. A memorable and multilayered volume for all libraries.—Kathleen Finn, St. Francis Xavier School, Winooski, VT
Kirkus Reviews
A brilliant visual association between Hughes' poem and the history of the Pullman porters illuminates a chapter of American history but gets bogged down in backmatter explaining its metaphors. The pagination sets a logical, steady pace for a loose visual narrative, opening with a train speeding past foregrounded cotton fields. The next spread is dominated by a portrait of a Pullman porter, with an American flag that the backmatter describes as a "light veil" over his face, and a glimpse of workers in the kitchen car. From there, the porters work with dignity "and grow strong" from scene to scene, until a wordless spread depicts a porter standing on the deck of the caboose and letting papers drift from his hands as though he were sending out a message of hard work, dignity and pride. Subsequent spreads, with recurring visual references to the American flag, feature scenes of people outside, in cities and on trains. Backmatter works hard (with far too much hand-holding) to explain what all of these flag references are supposed to convey. In all, it's a beautiful visual interpretation of Hughes's poem that fails to trust readers enough to let them come to their own understanding of the interplay of art and text. Enjoy the poem and the illustrations; skip the instructions. (Picture book. 8 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442420083
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
  • Publication date: 5/22/2012
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 290,928
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: AD390L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.32 (w) x 11.10 (h) x 0.42 (d)

Meet the Author

Bryan Collier is the author and illustrator of the Coretta Scott King Award-winning book Uptown. He has also illustrated Martin’s Big Words, which was also a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor book; Rosa, which received the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award; Dave the Potter, for which he won the Caldecott Honor; Your Moon, My Moon; and the #1 New York Times bestselling Barack Obama. Mr. Collier lives in New York.

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