Langston's Train Ride

Langston's Train Ride

by Robert Burleigh, Leonard Jenkins
     
 

Robert Burleigh's inspiring text captures the magical moment when Langston Hughes came to believe in himself as a writer, as he first wrote "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."

Clackety clack clack clack...
Can you hear the rhythm of the train?
Langston Hughes did. Traveling to see his father in 1920, as he listened to the sounds of the train -- metal on metal,

Overview

Robert Burleigh's inspiring text captures the magical moment when Langston Hughes came to believe in himself as a writer, as he first wrote "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."

Clackety clack clack clack...
Can you hear the rhythm of the train?
Langston Hughes did. Traveling to see his father in 1920, as he listened to the sounds of the train -- metal on metal, wheels on rails -- Hughes's imagination took flight. On that ride, he was inspired to write his first famous poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."
This picture book tells the story of Langston Hughes's rise to accomplishing his dream of being a writer. With bold, striking illustrations by Leonard Jenkins, here is a book for any young person with a dream.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Burleigh (Into the Woods) imagines "the moment when Langston Hughes came to believe in himself as a writer," according to his author's note. "Sunday afternoon in Harlem, and 125th Street is alive, swarming with people. Everything I see speaks to me-to me!," begins the snappy first-person narrative. As Langston walks to a book signing party, the sound of his clicking heels reminds him of the clackety-clack of the train he was riding when he composed his famous "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." The narration offers a quite lengthy look into what Langston might have been thinking on that train trip, en route to visit his father in Mexico, reflecting (in page-long chunks) on his family and heritage. Burleigh posits that it was the sight of the Mississippi River through the window that inspired Hughes's poem. The use of flashback and the poem's symbolism (which requires a knowledge of history) may prove difficult for younger readers. Jenkins (Sunflower Island) does some of his best work in these sophisticated mixed-media illustrations. Soulful, realistic portraits of Langston close-up and in silhouette alternate with landscapes in the artist's signature powder blues, pinks and golds; his palette punctuates the dusky, darkly shadowed elements in each picture to a sometimes unsettling, always intriguing effect. Older readers will likely appreciate this meditation on what may have prompted Hughes's early poetry, and it may move others to reach out for their dreams. Ages 4-8. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
The author relates an event in Langston Hughes' life that is a defining moment for him. As he rides the train toward Mexico, the rumbling sounds sway him back and forth rekindling some of his childhood memories of the river, the Mississippi River. It unearths visions of slaves and how it played such an important role in their lives, work, pain and sometimes death. Words come to him about rivers, the Congo, the Nile and the Euphrates. With this as a background his poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" is born and he comes to believe in himself as a writer. The author's rendition of this event presents an opportunity for young people to seriously consider pursuing their own dreams. The illustrator's bold, colorful illustrations add buoyancy to the text. 2004, Orchard Books/Scholastic Inc, Ages 7 to 11.
—Leila Toledo
Kirkus Reviews
Stunning illustrations cannot rescue a deeply flawed text that purports to capture Langston Hughes's excitement upon writing "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" and its subsequent publication. Leonard Jenkins's richly colored multi-media illustrations leap and dance, never standing still on the page. He evokes both Jazz Age Harlem and the great American Midwest with bold brushstrokes and a combination of print and collage, granting the subjects an appropriately mythic quality. But Burleigh's text, delivered as if in Hughes's own voice, goes way beyond invented dialogue-it's an entirely invented stream-of-consciousness that takes readers from Hughes's first publication party back to the train ride that sparked the great poem. This narration is almost painfully disingenuous, if not downright phony: "I'm on my way-to one of the best days of my young life." The author's presumption in appropriating what is unknowable-Hughes's thoughts at these times-is breathtaking. There are no references whatsoever to sources in the back matter, although there is a brief biographical note, and Hughes's poem itself is printed in full. Unfortunately, this offering does its subject a grievous injustice. (Picture book/nonfiction. 6-9)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780439352390
Publisher:
Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
10/01/2004
Pages:
32
Product dimensions:
11.00(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.40(d)
Lexile:
AD690L (what's this?)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

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