My People
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My People

4.8 12
by Langston Hughes, Charles R. Smith Jr.

Langston Hughes's spare yet eloquent tribue to his people has been cherished for generations. Now, acclaimed photographer Charles R. Smith Jr. interprets this beloved poem in vivid sepia photographs that capture the glory, the beauty, and the soul of being a black American today.


Langston Hughes's spare yet eloquent tribue to his people has been cherished for generations. Now, acclaimed photographer Charles R. Smith Jr. interprets this beloved poem in vivid sepia photographs that capture the glory, the beauty, and the soul of being a black American today.

Editorial Reviews

Kristi Jemtegaard
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
Publishers Weekly

"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.)

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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 words—the 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

K Up

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

Kirkus Reviews
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)

Product Details

Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
10.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
3 - 5 Years


Meet the Author

Langston Hughes (1902–1967) was born in Joplin, Missouri, and lived much of his life in Harlem, New York. As one America’s most cherished chroniclers of the black experience, known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes’s work was constantly groundbreaking throughout his forty-six-year career. His poetry about the ocean and the symbolism that surrounds it stems from his travels through Africa and Europe working as a seaman.

Charles R. Smith, Jr. is an acclaimed poet and the Coretta Scott King Award-winning illustrator of My People, a picture book based on the poem by Langston Hughes. He is also the illustrator of If, the author and photographer of I Am the World, and he won the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for his book Twelve Rounds To Glory. He grew up in California and attended the Brooks Institute of Photography. A magazine and book cover photographer in addition to a picture book creator, Charles lives with his wife and kids in Poughkeepsie, New York. Visit him at

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My People 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Charles R. Smith Junior's re-imagined publication of Langston Hughes' poem, My People, utilizes photography to grasp the celebration of African Americans that was Hughes' focus when creating this poem. Smith showcases the diverse shades, ages, and shapes of African Americans that could be attributed to any race. He places photos of people with dark skin next to the word, "night" and lighter tones of skin next to the word, "sun." This is seen in any race. Obviously, on a personal connection, I see this diversity of skin tone in Caucasians; some are very tan while others, like me, are very, very pale. Although I am pale, I have a slightly pink undertone to my skin. Others may have an olive or brown undertone to their skin as well. Smith should be (and was, seeing as he won the Coretta Scott King award) praised for his brilliant work. The expression held between the poem and photographs grasped and moved me. I think others will have a very similar reaction to this book as I did. This is another book I would like to have in my future classroom. I hope you enjoy this moving picture book as much as I do.
ADIVASIMPLYREADING More than 1 year ago
That the author was able to take an historical story and make it realative to youngsters in this day and age is remarkable. My three year old absolutely LOVES this book, and never gets tired of hearing it read over and over again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My people is a poem of African-American life. The illustrations were real photographs captured in a sepia tone that capture the essance of the words on each page. The book captures the beauty of being a black american today.
ShelbyCrum More than 1 year ago
With this book I loose the beauty of the poem by having to read it slowly. I constantly wanted to turn the pages wanting to read the book faster but because of this, you loose the beauty of the pictures. However, the photography is beautifully executed-clearly and deserves to win an award. The words and pictures work really well together though and would recommend others reading this book.
Rose_P More than 1 year ago
This thirty-three word poem written by Langston Hughes is a wonderful tribute to his people. I love the mystical comparisons he makes with the stars, the night and the sun. Once you are done being touched by the words of this book you will then be amazed by the wonderful photographs added by Charles Smith. The photographs are so spectacular because they give so much to the book and bring the words to life. Not only is the poem the perfect example of simplicity, but so are the pictures, taken in a way that makes you think that the people in them could be someone right in your own neighborhood.
ashleyutsa More than 1 year ago
This picture book celebrates African Americans by capturing them laughing, gazing, being deep in thought, and is a book full of love. The poetry and beauty of these photographs in this book are a great way to share a different culture and race (or your own) to your children and/or students in a classroom. Along with the amazing poem written awhile back, Smith captures those beautiful and dramatic photos to more describe the poem. This is a beautiful book.
nileriver More than 1 year ago
Langston Hughes is a famous poet in Harlem Renaissance time that brought the era full force with his wonderful words, and poetic style which made him famous. My People written by Langston Hughes focus on young people in this day in age. This book incorporates beautiful words with Hughes poetic style to show the beauty and soul of black people and how they are the importance of history, but what they bring to society.
I-Got-Seoul More than 1 year ago
Langston Hughes really has a way with words. Add that to Charles Smith's photographs and the readers receive a beautiful complement of art and poetry. The words are simple, but it says so much through the faces that appear on almost every page. I am not one for poems, but this one was worth reading. It is a good book to own by both a youngster and adult. -FTD
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