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Words with Wings: A Treasury of African-American Poetry and Art

Words with Wings: A Treasury of African-American Poetry and Art

by Belinda Rochelle

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African-American poetry and art take wing and soar in this collection compiled by Belinda Rochelle.

With work that spans the nineteenth century through the present, this stunning collection pairs twenty poems by distinguished African-American poets with twenty works of art by acclaimed African-American artists.

Renowned poets and artists such as Maya Angelou,


African-American poetry and art take wing and soar in this collection compiled by Belinda Rochelle.

With work that spans the nineteenth century through the present, this stunning collection pairs twenty poems by distinguished African-American poets with twenty works of art by acclaimed African-American artists.

Renowned poets and artists such as Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Rita Dove, Countee Cullen, Jacob Lawrence, and Paul Lawrence Dunbar powerfully explore themes of slavery, racism, and black pride, among many others.

Named as one of the New York Public Library's "100 Titles for Reading and Sharing," this important collection was described as "a stirring book that will take [readers] up close and also extend their view of themselves" in a starred review by Booklist.

Supports the Common Core State Standards

Editorial Reviews

Riverbank Review
“Children will find not only history and community but also childhood experiences here.”
Our Review
Just by reading the introduction of Words with Wings, you know you're in for something extraordinary. This amazing book is a compilation of words and images from African-American poets and artists. Spanning generations, the book includes well-known greats such as Langston Hughes and Alice Walker as well as hopeful and intense newcomers. Belinda Rochelle, the book's editor, chose the pieces for the statement they make about African-American culture. She also went to great lengths to match each poem to a fitting work of visual art. Alice Walker's poem "We Alone," for example, is paired with Henry Ossawa Tanner's The Banjo Lesson. The result is a breathtaking duo that improves with every read.

Some of the topics explored by these great works are racism, black pride, poverty, and struggle. While the theme is African-American culture, the human core of all the poems and illustrations will inspire readers of any heritage. The poem "Legacies" by Nikki Giovanni reminds us of the everyday words that we speak and the way no one ever says what they mean; we often remain unaware of the fear and love that surrounds us, Giovanni suggests. Particularly touching is the matching painting, "Saving Prayers" by Horace Pippin, which offers a glimpse into a very private moment between a mother and her children, illuminated even further by Giovanni's powerful words.

The poetry and art represent various styles and formats. From traditional rhyme to free verse, from watercolor to charcoal, these works speak of the human condition with compassion and strength. Readers young and old will revel in the power of a word and the impact of a single brushstroke.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
HIn this stunning collection, Rochelle's (Witness to Freedom: Young People Who Fought for Civil Rights) 20 pairings of painting and poems, culled from 19th- and 20th-century African-American artists and poets, are nearly as inspired as the works themselves. In one spread, Langston Hughes's "Aunt Sue's Stories" tells of a child listening to Aunt Sue's own experiences of "Black slaves/ Working in the hot sun,/ And black slaves/ Walking in the dewy night." Opposite, Elizabeth Catlett's print Sharecropper portrays a gracefully aging woman, her face a haunting mixture of wisdom and warmth. Alice Walker's "Women," a poem about the path women forged to freedom "With fists as well as/ Hands/ How they battered down/ Doors" and "knew what we/ Must know/ Without knowing a page/ Of it/ Themselves," is juxtaposed with William H. Johnson's Harriet Tubman wearing an American flag, its stars fallen on the ground (it is also the volume's cover image). These pairings examine not only sweeping history but also intimate domestic moments, such as Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays," a child's reflection on the father he (or she) never thanked for rising in the "blueblack cold" to make a fire before waking the child ("What did I know, what I did know/ of love's austere and lonely offices?"). Opposite, Henry Ossawa Tanner's Thankful Poor, a glorious oil painting of father and child, depicts their two heads bowed in prayer at the table, bathed in golden light. Regardless of topic, the works focus consistently on the virtues of strength, courage and determination. Elegant and thoughtful design elements shape the volume into a unified whole despite the varied styles of the paintings and poems included, and Rochelle's superb selections and endnotes on the authors and artists make this a collection to be treasured. All ages. (Jan.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
What a powerful collection of poetry and art by African-American authors and artists! Rochelle has paired poems and works of art that express the despair, strength, courage, loss and hope that represent the unquenchable African-American spirit. By selecting poems and art that span over a century of the African experience in America, Rochelle brings together works that might otherwise seem dichotomous. The book is perhaps most powerful to those adults who have experienced or witnessed events represented in the poems and art, yet it can serve as a learning/sharing tool with children and young adults, to preserve the memory of the scaled hurdles of past generations. The reader's emotions will run the gamut with this collection. Selecting a favorite poem or work of art is impossible, yet most remain indelibly marked in the mind and heart. The addition of biographical information about each poet and artist makes the book an important addition for any poetry collection. 2001, HarperCollins, $16.95. Ages 8 up. Reviewer: J. B. Petty
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-Rochelle's compilation of 20 poems by a dozen writers is accompanied by large-scale reproductions of the work of 17 artists. Each colorful spread pairs a poem and painting in various layouts. Though in a few cases the words seem shunted to the corners, most of the combinations are stunning. Pairs like Countee Cullen's "Incident" with Lev. T. Mills's Gemini I or Langston Hughes's "My People" with Aaron Douglas's Into Bondage reveal a close attention to the emotional impact in each-the poems and paintings feed off one another almost chemically. Almost all of the selections are from the 20th century, and many contemporary poets are represented, including Lucille Clifton, Gwendolyn Brooks, Alice Walker, Rita Dove, Nikki Giovanni, and E. Ethelbert Miller. The selection complements Catherine Clinton's I, Too, Sing America: Three Centuries of African American Poetry (Houghton, 1998), which provides a broader chronological range of poets, and which shares only three poems with this title. Rochelle's volume is more immediate and personal; yet, as she quotes Georgia Douglas Johnson in her introduction: "Your world is as big as you make it"-and she provides readers with a wide view. Short biographical paragraphs on each poet and artist round out this moving presentation.-Nina Lindsay, Oakland Public Library, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Compiler Rochelle (Jewels, 1998, etc.) envisioned this project as a way to help youngsters release their"own creative energy" even as they confront the"work, pain, love, anger, regret" endemic to the human experience. In general this is a welcoming and welcome volume, an ambitious pairing of some 20 inspiring poems with quality reproductions of handsome work by significant African-American artists. Rochelle includes 17 poets, including such greats as Angelou, Braithewaite, Brooks Clifton, Cullen, Dove, Dunbar, Giovanni, Hayden, Hughes, Johnson, Jordan, and Walker. Old favorites include: Langston Hughes's"My People" and Lucille Clifton's"Listen Children." The illustration choices mostly reflect 19th- and early-20th-century artists like Henry Ossawa Tanner and Charles Dawson, or mid-century painters like Romare Bearden, Horace Pippin, and Hughie Lee-Smith. Unfortunately, the book's overly busy design seriously detracts from the art reproductions and often diminishes the text. The paintings are stunning enough to be viewed without decorative embellishments. Particularly annoying is a black and white stripey tail that curves around and under Lucille Clifton's"Auction Street" and its paired, powerful, painting—Jacob Lawrence's"Community." Riflescope-like spots decorate the black page that includes Countee Cullen's" Incident" and distressingly distracts from Lev T. Mills's affecting sepia-toned image of a young boy, chin in hand, considering his life and his community. Though backmatter is included, it is, sadly, too brief to be of use for the reader who wants to know more about the poets and the artists Rochelle highlights. There is little or no substantiveinformation aboutthewriters, the original sources and dates of the poetry, or the medium, dimension, and dates of the reproduced art. However, despite these limitations, families and libraries hungry for more information and inspiration on African-American themes will want to own this as a beginning. Words with Wings will soar year round—not just during Black History month. (Picture book/poetry. All ages)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Amistad Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
9.25(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.36(d)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Read an Excerpt


Nikki Giovanni

her grandmother called her from the playground
"yes, ma'am"
"i want chu to learn how to make rolls" said the old
woman proudly
but the little girl didn't want
to learn how because she knew
even if she couldn't say it that
that would mean when the old one died she would be less
dependent on her spirit so she said
"i don't want to know how to make no rolls"
with her lips poked out
and the old woman wiped her hands on
her apron saying "lord
these children"
and neither of them ever
said what they meant
and i guess nobody ever does

[27 jan 72]

Words with Wings. Copyright © by Belinda Rochelle. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Belinda Rochelle is the author of the picture books When Jo Louis Won the Title, illustrated by Larry Johnson, and Jewels, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, and the nonfiction book Witnesses to Freedom: Young People Who Fought for Civil Rights. She has worked in Washington, D.C., as a lobbyist for many women's organizations.

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