essay project, traces 400 years of African-American history by pairing Weatherford's (The Sound that Jazz Makes) poetry with period photographs and engravings. The author profiles individuals, both imagined and historical; as she sees it, "The bridge [of history] is men and women,/ famous and unknown,/ leaving paths of memories,/ timeless stepping stones." Her subjects are sometimes anonymous (an African woman sold into slavery, a farmer, a basket weaver, a cowboy), sometimes prominent (Harriet Tubman, Jesse Owens, Martin Luther King Jr.). Unfortunately, Weatherford's free verse can be eloquent, but when molded to the meter of rhyme, her poetry at times becomes pedestrian and cliched ("Me, in my sailor suit/ off to Sunday school,/ ready with a Bible verse/ and the Golden Rule"). The order of the material is confusing as well the narrative starts out chronologically, then skips around, as when a photo of a 1930s farming family appears before a mention of a Civil War regimental hero. Many of the illustrations are breathtaking in their impact, particularly the initial photographs, but the visual momentum eventually dissipates amid a series of static portraits. The presentation is consistently handsome, with photos and engravings done up in sober sepia shades keyed to brown fabric borders, but the solemnity and weight it lends the proceedings are ultimately undermined by the less rigorously conceived text. All ages. (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
When Weatherford decided to expand on a graduate school photo-essay assignment, this collection became a reality. How fortunate for readers who appreciate wonderful illustrations accompanied by well-written evocative poems that fit! This collection is a rich mosaic of images that not only chronicles African American history but also celebrates the rich culture of the African American experience. Beginning with the capture of slaves in Africa, continuing through the Civil War to the Jazz Age, and ending with space exploration, these poems resound with the vitality and determination of a people. Famous personalities, such Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman, as well as farmers, cowboys, and domestics find their voice in Weatherford's poetry. The poems vary, creating an excellent choice for teaching about meter and form in poetry. The illustrations are wonderful, and a list of photo credits is provided. The message transmitted in the poems is that the unique personalities and struggles of African Americans have created a culture that still beats strong. Weatherford encourages readers not only to remember the bridge represented by those African Americans who have contributed to a rich history but to continue to build the bridge with new accomplishments. Weatherford's collection is an admirable choice for learning about the African American experience but also a useful tool for poetry units. Illus. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, Penguin Putnam, 53p,
This photo essay, written in poetic form, describes African-American history from Africa to the present. The photographs, paired with the poems, are haunting and remind us of the accomplishments of people who began building the bridge to the future—especially those who struggled through slavery and, later, the Civil Rights Movement. Many notable African Americans such as Rosa Parks, Joe Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mae Jemison are included. The last poem, however, leaves the reader with a feeling of optimism and hope that, although many have gone before us, we now are responsible for continuing the journey across the bridge of time. The poems, simply written, would be appropriate for use in elementary school classes, yet their beauty and power would be instructive for a university-level History or English class. 2002, Philomel/Penguin, Ages 9 up.
Gr 4-8-As Weatherford searched for two decades for photos to illustrate her poems celebrating African-American heritage, she also began to write poems to accompany some of the powerful images she encountered. Thus text and art flow through this volume, each having its voice. From the slave trade to the Civil Rights movement, the author evokes imagined and actual individual experiences of the people-some famous, some not-in the historical black-and-white photos, drawings, and etchings (a quilt garners the only color reproduction). They are reproduced in different tones, from sienna through gray to midnight blue, while poem titles and initial letters in warm brown match the African textile borders on each page. The poems are written in free verse or rhyme and meter (and not always smoothly executed), and aren't always as inspiring as the illustrations. Most of the pictures are reproduced across the wide, generous spreads, but a few of the portraits are smaller and in comparison seem cramped in the gutter. In addition, some of them need more explanation than the credits offered at the end of the volume. For instance, Gordon Parks's photograph "American Gothic"-meant to evoke Grant Wood's famous painting of the same title-is listed only as a portrait of Mrs. Ella Watson, without its actual title. Thus the historical context of this first professional photograph by a famous African-American photographer, and its artistic symbolism, will be lost to readers. Nevertheless, this celebratory, visually striking book will be appreciated in most collections.-Nina Lindsay, Oakland Public Library, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Some define poetry as the distillation of complex themes into specific images. In just 29 poems, Weatherford (The Sound That Jazz Makes, 2000) brilliantly summarizes the broad span of African-American history, with short poems that follow a complete timeline from prehistory ("Mother Africa Speaks to Civilization") to the present through the inclusion of current sports stars ("The All-Time, All-Sport, All-Star Team"). Her collection begins with "Remember the Bridge," honoring links to the past, and ends with "I Am the Bridge," a stunning metaphorical view of African-Americans standing strong together like a bridge of steel. Several poems graphically describe the capture, transport, sale, and mistreatment of slaves (with one accompanying photograph showing a horrifying image of a slave's scarred back), other poems focus on famous African-Americans, and other works focus on aspects of culture both past and present, including the civil-rights movement. Almost all of these poems are rhymed, with many fairly shouting to be read out loud with a strong beat. Each poem is paired with a vintage photograph or illustration, augmented by an attractive page design with the titles set in brown. Some of the poems will work for younger children, such as "Martin's Letter" or "Soul Food," while other selections will find a place in middle school and high school classrooms. This is a collection for every library, offering all readers a bridge toward understanding and acceptance. (author's note) (Poetry. 9-18)