The Barnes & Noble Review
Langston Hughes was well known for his gentle nature, honest voice, and triumphant spirit, all of which are well reflected in this biography by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Alice Walker. First published in 1974, Langston Hughes: American Poet tells the story of Hughes's childhood and his development into one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. It also introduces readers to some of Hughes's earliest works by including two of his poems in the text.
Hughes's childhood was hardly idyllic, much of it spent in Kansas with his grandmother while his mother searched for work and his father grew rich and embittered on a ranch in Mexico. He faced many obstacles in trying to achieve his dream of one day becoming a writer, including racial injustice, oppressive poverty, and a pervasive loneliness. In the hands of a less experienced writer, Hughes's background and experiences might seem depressing. But Walker describes the man's gentle perseverance, unflappable determination, and eventual achievement of his dream in a way that is both heartwarming and inspirational. Yet while Walker's affection for her subject clearly shines through, she avoids sugarcoating when she talks about Hughes's pain over his parents' broken marriage, his dismay at being victimized by racism, or his disgust at realizing that his own father was a bitter snob and a terrible bigot.
Walker's telling of Hughes's story is plenty powerful on its own, but the book packs an even greater wallop thanks to Catherine Deeter's evocative illustrations, paintings rich with color, detail, and emotion. Thanks to this combined effort, future generations of readers will come to know Hughes and his work and understand how he came to be one of the great writers of our time. (Beth Amos)
"Deeter contributes imposing artwork to Walker's first book for children, originally published in 1974, impressively meshing realism and symbolism in her period paintings," wrote PW. Ages 7-11. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Just in time for his centennial celebrations, the reprint of Alice Walker's loving portrait of Hughes is most welcome. Her narrative remains the same: a child-friendly look at the key points in Hughes's youth that set him on the road to becoming the writer that he was. Kids will love the Mexico City earthquake that never allowed Langston to catch up on his sleep before being bundled on the train back to Kansas. Adults will enjoy Walker's new Author's Note, which describes her warm friendship with the older Hughes during her college days. All readers will be drawn into Catherine Deeter's finely evocative paintings of Hughes and his times. An added bonus to all this is the inclusion of two of Langston's most memorable early poems-not as an afterthought, but beautifully flowing from the text. This is not a book for the multicultural market. It is a book for everyone about a native son who stretched for his dreams, sang like Walt Whitman of America, and made us all proud. 2002 (orig. 1974), Amistad/HarperCollins, $16.95. Ages 7 to 11. Reviewer: Kathleen Karr
Gr 2-5-This text originally published in 1974 is accompanied by new, colorful paintings. In clear but at times dry prose, the author reveals the many influences that led Hughes to become who he was. He was raised by a loving grandmother and by a mother who had difficulty finding jobs. He dealt with loneliness, racism, and a distant father who, he realized, hated his own people-black Americans-as well as Native Americans. The artwork is rendered in lovely, inviting hues and softens the misery the narrative describes. For example, a depiction of young Langston meeting his estranged, bitter father shows the elder Hughes in a much warmer light than the wording might indicate. The new edition is larger in format than the older one and has a more modern picture-book feel, as well as an author's note. Two of Hughes's poems are included: "When Susanna Jones Wears Red" and "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." Walker's version balances Floyd Cooper's Coming Home (Philomel, 1994) by delving more into Hughes's adult life. An acceptable choice for poetry units and Black History Month.-Anne Chapman Callaghan, Racine Public Library, WI Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
The text of a 1974 picture-book biography of the poet Langston Hughes is reprinted, with new illustrations. The narrative focuses on Hughes's youth, describing how the break-up of his parents' marriage led to an unsettled childhood spent first with his storytelling grandmother and later, in adolescence, with his often unemployed mother. From these experiences, coupled with a disappointing relationship with his embittered father, grew Hughes's passion for setting down in verse his pride in his people. Unfortunately, the text itself demonstrates little passion, and almost no sense of poetry-a sad absence in a book about one of the 20th-century's greatest American poets. An author's note, new for this edition, indicates that a passion for the subject is there, despite appearances; it seems that here Walker has simply succumbed to the "dumbing-down" syndrome that afflicts so many writers for adults when they turn their pens to children's books. The elegance of her prose for adults is largely missing in this offering, which features choppy, pedestrian language instead: "This [discrimination] made Langston mad. He thought it was stupid for white people not to hire him just because his skin was black." Deeter's muted illustrations do little to compensate for the lackluster text; mostly static, they at times verge on the sentimental. One exception to this is a striking, Dillon-like composition that pictures a monumental black man growing organically out of the land around the Mississippi; this accompanies one of the two poems included in the text, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." The writer of those poems deserves better than this. No bibliography or source notes are included. (Picturebook/biography. 7-10)
An excellent introduction to Hughes.The engaging, anecdotal style is perfect for read-alouds.