The Negro Speaks of Rivers

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Overview


Langston Hughes has long been acknowledged as the voice, and his poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, the song, of the Harlem Renaissance. Although he was only seventeen when he composed it, Hughes already had the insight to capture in words the strength and courage of black people in America.

Artist E.B. Lewis acts as interpreter and visionary, using watercolor to pay tribute to Hughes's timeless poem, a poem that every child deserves to know.

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Overview


Langston Hughes has long been acknowledged as the voice, and his poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, the song, of the Harlem Renaissance. Although he was only seventeen when he composed it, Hughes already had the insight to capture in words the strength and courage of black people in America.

Artist E.B. Lewis acts as interpreter and visionary, using watercolor to pay tribute to Hughes's timeless poem, a poem that every child deserves to know.

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Editorial Reviews

Kristi Jemtegaard
In The Negro Speaks of Rivers, illustrator E. B. Lewis…uses watercolors to capture as well the path of sunlight across a wide river, the watery interplay of waves along a beach, even the cracked clay bottom of a wadi gone to dust. In the stunning self-portrait that accompanies the line "My soul has grown deep like the rivers," painter and poet seem, for a moment, to have merged, awed by the power of this primal element, humbled by its beauty.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

"I've known rivers:/ I've known rivers ancient as the world," Hughes's poem begins; like the poem, Lewis's radiant watercolors convey great depth. Rivers all over the world-the Congo, the Euphrates, the Nile, the Mississippi-become the stage for portraying the experiences of black people throughout history. As an endnote explains, the artist includes a self-portrait as well, for the line "My soul has grown deep like the rivers." A particularly striking work, it depicts a man in prayer, his face in shadow as he bows his head over his joined hands; a shaft of sunlight stripes the man's forehead and shoulders while his upper body reflects the colors of all the rivers in the book-a figurative expression of Hughes's conceit that people have drawn strength from life-giving waters. Other paintings are more realistic, e.g., a parent and child asleep in a hammock outside their hut near the Congo. The interplay of light, water and color unites the compositions artistically, creating a book as eloquent as the text at its foundation. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
School Library Journal

Gr 3-6

Like the steady and determined flow of a river, this poem carries readers along as Hughes draws a metaphorical connection between the waterways of the world and African-American culture. Moving from ancient times ("I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young" or "I looked upon the Nile and raised pyramids above") to the Mississippi River and its connection to slavery, the poem offers both a time line of the African-American experience and a comment on the perseverance of the African-American soul. The exquisite illustrations make the eloquent verses all the more accessible. Lewis is at his best here, and the use of watercolors to evoke the flow of a river is particularly apt. The artist's double-page depictions of black individuals-evocative portraits of faces, an image of a parent and child asleep in a hammock outside a "hut near the Congo," or a close-up of a pair of brown hands lifting an earthenware pot-dovetail perfectly with Hughes's words and ideas. A vivid gold-infused painting of a boy and his grandfather fishing in the Mississippi's muddy waters suggests a hope that the river and the African-American soul will endure. A must for poetry collections.-Joan Kindig, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA

Kirkus Reviews
A visual paean to Hughes's enduring poem, Lewis's images make a personal connection to a taproot of feelings. The 12 lines of the poem, considered Hughes's signature song of the Harlem Renaissance, are poignantly expressed through the artist's trademark watercolors, which depict in successive double-page spreads black children playing by the Euphrates, a mother and child sleeping by the Congo and fishermen with a net waist-deep in the Nile. The penultimate image, also depicted on the cover, brings the poem into the present with a grandfather and child fishing by a modern Mississippi River bridge. Lewis states in a concluding note that he nearly drowned as a child, and his paintings are awash with emotion. While the picture-book format targets the book for young readers, the word "Negro" in the title may require some context. It has the capacity to reach far above the normal picture-book ages, however, and should be considered for older collections. The beautifully reverent, serene cover image will persuade all to look inside. (Picture book. 5 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786818679
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
  • Publication date: 1/6/2009
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 11.20 (w) x 10.20 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was an an American poet, novelist, playwright, short story writer, and columnist. Hughes is known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance. He wrote what many consider to be his signature poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, at seventeen, in 1926.

E.B. Lewis is the acclaimed illustrator of many award-winning picture books, including the 2005 Caldecott Honor Book, Coming on Home Soon. He has received a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Talking About Bessie, by Nikki Grimes, and his books Verivie Goes to School With Us Boys; Bat Boy and his Violin; and My Rows and Piles of Coins each won Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Awards. Mr. Lewis teaches illustration at Philadelphia's University of the Arts, and is a member of the Society of Illustrators. He lives in Folsom, New Jersey.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 27, 2010

    What a great and Rewarding Book

    The Negro Speaks of Rivers is a Coretta Scott King Award winner. I was taken to several places and times by this book and really enjoyed the illustrations by E.B. Lewis. You can tell how much pride, joy and honor he has and it shows in what he is portraying to the reader. I enjoyed being taken through time, through the eyes of Hugh's from the ancient world to the Congo River and from the Mississippi to Abe Lincoln in New Orleans, and how a soul can speak and reach across the ages and tell such an amazing story, with very few words. This is a great read for anyone who enjoys history and love that is spoken through the soul and through the eyes of someone who has a great way of portraying and giving tribute through the rivers eyes and soul. This book is dedicated to the hero's of the Civil Rights Movement and has a special Illustrator's note in the back of the book. I love this note as much as I did the book, he has said some very special things in honor of Langston Hughes and it truly speaks volumes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2011

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