Hughes's powerful tribute sings with both admiration and joy. Charles Smith Jr. has chosen to illustrate these deeply felt sentiments with photographs that focus tightly on the utterly ordinary but strikingly beautiful faces and hands of his subjects…With this book, readers will understand what Hughes understood almost a century ago: Life, in all its variety, is itself a work of art.
The Washington Post
"At just thirty-three words total, [this] poem is a study in simplicity," writes Smith (Rimshots; If); in its visual simplicity, his picture-book presentation is a tour de force. Introducing the poem two or three words at a time, Smith pairs each phrase with a portrait of one or more African-Americans; printed in sepia, the faces of his subjects materialize on black pages. "The night," reads the opening spread, across from an image of a man's face, his eyes shut; "is beautiful," continues the next spread, showing the same face, now with eyes open and a wide smile. The text, sized big to balance the portraits, shows up in hues that range from white to tan to brown-black, reflecting Smith's reading that "the words celebrate black people of differing shades and ages." An inventive design adds a short, shadowed row or column of small portraits to the edge of many spreads; these quietly reinforce the concept of "my people." Whether of babies, children or adults, Smith's faces emerge into the light, displaying the best that humanity has to offer-intelligence, wisdom, curiosity, love and joy. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Sheilah Egan
In the end note, the photographer discusses his approach to representing Hughes's 33-word poem with images of the African American people that the poem celebrates. His decisions as to who, how, where, and why led him to present us with this marvelous collection of close-up shots of young people (including new babies), oldsters, and many in between. The poem itself compares several aspects of nature with the people themselves. We see large print words from the poem juxtaposed with Smith's powerful photographs, beginning with the words "The night…" with a photograph of a stunning man's face "is beautiful" on the next page with the same man displaying a bright smile. "The stars are beautiful, so the eyes of my people." The placement of text and photographs adds an element of interaction for the reader. Watching the faces as they change from picture to picture is like getting to know the people themselves. The sepia-toned photographs are shown against a plain black background. Sometimes fainter insets of other faces, smiles or shining eyes draw our attention after viewing the featured picture. The endpapers show many of the interior shots processed to make them look like old pictures. Readers will be prompted to match them to the pictures in the book. The artistry of Smith's skill with his camera is evident as is his deep respect for Hughes's wordsthe dignity with which the poem and the photographs are presented makes this a deeply moving examination of word and image. Suitable to encourage projects for Black History month or any poetry study. Reviewer: Sheilah Egan
School Library Journal
Smith's knack for pairing poetry and photography is well documented in books such as Hoop Queens (Candlewick, 2003) and Rudyard Kipling's If (S & S, 2006). Here, his artful images engage in a lyrical and lively dance with Langston Hughes's brief ode to black beauty. Dramatic sepia portraits of African Americans-ranging from a cherubic, chubby-cheeked toddler to a graying elder whose face is etched with lines-are bathed in shadows, which melt into black backgrounds. The 33 words are printed in an elegant font in varying sizes as emphasis dictates. In order to maximize the effect of the page turn and allow time for meaning to be absorbed, the short phrases and their respective visual narratives often spill over more than a spread. The conclusion offers a montage of faces created with varying exposures, a decision that provides a light-filled aura and the irregularities that suggest historical prints. A note from Smith describes his approach to the 1923 poem. This celebration of the particular and universal will draw a wide audience: storytime participants; students of poetry, photography, and cultural studies; seniors; families. A timely and timeless offering.-Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library
Hughes first published "My People" in 1923. Bold photographs that joyfully celebrate the diversity of African-American culture bring this simple text to life once again. Faces of various skin tones and ages, and both genders, explode from the black background of each page, all reproduced in faintly antiqued sepia tones that both befit the Jazz Age origins of the poem and give glorious depth to the faces depicted. The image that illustrates "The stars are beautiful" is of hair ornaments in deep, rich, black hair; light-bathed faces look up into an implied "sun." Smith's eye for detail and his extraordinary photographs eloquently express the pride and love the poet felt for his people, capturing equally the curiosity and excitement of youth and the experience and wisdom of elders. The simple yet brilliant photographs fully occupy the page; filmstrip-like thumbnails at the edges provide a visual rhythm. All together, they are the perfect accompaniment to the classic poem and create a complex work of art that any age can relish. (photographer's note) (Picture book. 2-10)