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Me and Uncle Romie: A Story Inspired by the Life and Art of Romare Bearden

Me and Uncle Romie: A Story Inspired by the Life and Art of Romare Bearden

by Claire Hartfield, Jerome Lagarrigue Lagarrigue (Illustrator)
Whooo-ooo! Train's a' coming! James can't wait to get on board and go visit his uncle way up north in New York City. But he also just wishes he could take a little bit of home along with him-things like baseball games, and the special birthday cake Mama always makes. Will Uncle Romie, who's some kind of artist, know about things like that?

Young readers will feel


Whooo-ooo! Train's a' coming! James can't wait to get on board and go visit his uncle way up north in New York City. But he also just wishes he could take a little bit of home along with him-things like baseball games, and the special birthday cake Mama always makes. Will Uncle Romie, who's some kind of artist, know about things like that?

Young readers will feel as if they're discovering the city's wonders, and making an unexpected friend, right along with James in this vibrant story, expressively illustrated by Coretta Scott King Award winner Jerome Lagarrigue.

A how-to section on storytelling collages and a short biography of Romare Bearden are included.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Kids who are inspired to do the same will find instructions for making collages at the end of the story. And everyone else will want to turn right back to the beginning of this lovely book and read it again. — Laura Shapiro
Publishers Weekly
Art inventively imitates art in this engaging volume. Newcomer Hartfield's fictional tale draws upon the work of collage artist Bearden who, as a child, moved from his native North Carolina to Harlem. Lagarrigue's (My Man Blue) softly focused acrylic paintings introduce collage elements as they effectively evoke the story's period setting, which shifts from the rural South to Manhattan. While his mother awaits the birth of twins, narrator James travels by train to visit his Aunt Nanette and Uncle Romie, who is working hard to finish paintings for his upcoming art show. The man remains behind the closed doors of his studio as his wife shows their nephew the sights of the city. Lagarrigue retains his own style while incorporating the turquoise, brick red, fuschia and other hues so prominent in Bearden's work; the compositions of his cityscapes in particular recall the giant collage The Block (1971). James becomes enamored of bustling Harlem, where he plays stickball and partakes in a rooftop barbecue. On his birthday, the lad wanders into his uncle's studio and is thrilled to discover that Bearden's art captures his favorite spot: "Looking at Uncle Romie's paintings, I could feel Harlem-its beat and bounce." In the satisfying ending, James, back at home with his new twin siblings, feels inspired to create his own collage as a birthday gift for his uncle. Concluding tips on making collages may well encourage readers to do the same. Ages 5-up. (Dec.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 2-4-This vibrant, evocative picture book presents a fictionalized version of Harlem Renaissance artist Bearden through the eyes of a nephew visiting from North Carolina. At first, young James catches only glimpses of his busy, distracted Uncle Romie and quickly decides that this elusive giant of a man must not be much fun. He makes collages, which seems awfully easy, and he's always shut away behind the closed door of his studio. James passes most of his time in New York with his Aunt Nanette, who comes across as a warm, willowy, Caribbean Earth Mother. When the boy's birthday rolls around, however, she has to go to a funeral, leaving only Uncle Romie for company. To James's pleasant surprise, his uncle knows how to have fun and even knows about baseball. Lagarrigue's lush, acrylic illustrations with collage elements recall the tones, brush strokes, and mixture of media that saturate Bearden's groundbreaking work. An author's note acknowledges that Hartfield's story is fiction and provides basic biographical information about the artist. Thumbnail reproductions from Bearden's work round out the narrative.-Catherine Threadgill, Charleston County Public Library, SC Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This tribute to collage artist Romare Bearden is movingly executed in a fictionalized story of young James, who visits his aunt and uncle in New York while his parents adjust to the arrival of twins. James is a little nervous; Uncle Romie and Aunt Nanette don’t have any kids, and a picture of Uncle Romie makes him look a little scary. Who will bake him a lemon cake and take him to the baseball game on his birthday? Aunt Nanette turns out to be warmhearted and welcoming, but Uncle Romie, busy with his art, seems a little distant. When the big day arrives, Uncle Romie turns out to be more fun that James anticipated. When James enters the art studio for the first time, he recognizes Harlem in Romie’s collage paintings that he’d previously dismissed as "kinda easy" to make, and he sees one that reminds him of North Carolina, where Uncle Romie also grew up. Uncle and nephew bond a little over shared memories of home, and then Uncle Romie surprises James with tickets to the ballgame. Aunt Nanette is back in time for cake, and by the time James goes home, his horizons have expanded not only in terms of his family, but in his appreciation for other places and for the power of art. So many things at home now remind him of Uncle Romie that he makes a collage birthday card for him featuring train schedules, tiger lilies, a subway token and subway map, and his own painting. Lagarrigue’s (Freedom Summer, 2001, etc.) collage artwork, like Bearden’s, possesses a real feel for the Harlem setting without actually being realistic. He conveys the essence of the place through bits of paper, darkly colored paint, and impressionistically blurry portrayals of people and scenes. A guide at the back to help youngartists create their own collages enhances this fitting introduction to an American artist. (Picture book. 5-8)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.93(w) x 11.27(h) x 0.43(d)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

Claire Hartfield is a native and lifelong resident of Chicago, Illinois. She attended the public schools of Chicago, received her B.A. from Yale University, and her law degree from The University of Chicago.

Claire is the author of the highly acclaimed Me and Uncle Romie which was chosen as a Notable Book of the Year by Smithsonian Magazine, a Junior Library Guild Choice, and one of New York Public Library's 100 Books for Reading and Sharing. 

The story is historical fiction, based on the life of renowned African-American collage artist, Romare Bearden.

One of Claire's greatest pleasures was raising her own three daughters, Emily, Caroline and Corinne. It was through reading to her girls that she experienced first hand, the ability of books to transform a child's understanding of the world and their place in it. The magical and powerful role of books in the life of children drew her into writing.

In addition to her writing, Hartfield is an attorney and education leader with particular focus on helping to provide educational opportunities to under-served children. She has served as Chief of Staff, Chief Operating Officer, and is currently Chairman of the Alain Locke Charter School on Chicago's African-American West Side. 
During Claire's tenure as a member of the leadership team, Alain Locke Charter School has achieved the #1 test score gains in the history of the Illinois Standardized Achievement Test and has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as 1 of 7 schools in the nation best closing the achievement gap. 
Claire has also led Alain Locke's programs to identify and develop principals and teachers for urban schools around the country.
Prior to her work in charter schools and education leadership development, Claire worked as a lawyer, specializing in school desegregation litigation, using her legal skills to negotiate equal educational opportunities for those who historically have been relegated to inferior schools. 
Claire is currently continuing her work with Alain Locke Charter School and is working on a new book for children.

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