"Illustration is the visual interpretation of the written word," E.B. Lewis writes in his note to The Negro Speaks of Rivers, by Langston Hughes. Although this seems a simple statement on the face of it, Lewis' illustrations bring Langston Hughes' poem to life. This beautiful book is well worth seeking out for children of all ages. The illustrations and words will resonate with children and adults long past the first viewing.
The Negro Speaks of RiversLangston Hughes wrote this poem in 1920 at the age of eighteen while he was traveling by train to see his father in Mexico. As he crossed the Mississippi River, he thought about how the history of African-Americans is linked to this great river. He remembered his grandmother talking about how being sold down the Mississippi during slavery times was one of the worst fates possible. Hughes remembered reading about Abraham Lincoln traveling down the Mississippi as a young man, being horrified when he saw human beings sold at a slave market. And so Hughes started writing this poem on the back of an envelope on the train. It begins:
by Langston Hughes
illustrated by E.B. Lewis
NY: Jump at the Sun Books, 2009
2010 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book
ages 4 - 14
I've known rivers:E.B. Lewis' illustrations, luminescent watercolors that fill each page, truly bring the poem to life - breathing meaning, history and feelings into the words of the poem. Lewis visually represents the important role that water has played throughout history in the lives of black people, and continues to play today. Lewis pairs each line of the poem with a large painting, some showing scenes from modern life, others showing scenes from history. The poetry and artwork are deeply layered with emotions and a sense of history. Through these images, children both young and old will be able to connect personally to Hughes' masterful poem.
I've known rivers ancient as the world
and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
(see here for the full text and Langston Hughes reading aloud the entire poem)
E.B. Lewis writes in the author's note, "I read the poem over and over, and as I visualized the meaning of the words, Hughes's work became as personal as a prayer. More was revealed to me each time I read it, and I began to truly understand the poem's essence." I feel the same could be said of Lewis' watercolors. They are paintings I want to look at over and over again: seeing more, feeling more, understanding more each time. It is hard for me to find the words to describe them. They take my breath away. My one hope is that Mr. Lewis can be persuaded to make a video combining his beautiful artwork with original audio of Langston Hughes reading aloud this poem.
You can find other paintings by the remarkable E.B. Lewis at the Michelson Galleries.
Black-Eyed Susan and Tasha at Kids Lit also have thoughtful, interesting reviews of The Negro Speaks of Rivers.
You can find The Negro Speaks of Rivers at your local public library using Worldcat.org. It is also available at your local bookstore or online at Amazon. If you make a purchase on Amazon by using a link on this blog, Great Kid Books will earn a small commission (at no cost to you). This will be used to purchase more books to review. Thank you for your support.
***One thing I'd like to encourage all bloggers: please include a link to WorldCat.org, so viewers can easily see if local library systems near them carry the book you've talked about. ***
Some great blogs to explore:
Over at Fuse #8, Betsy has a great review of Poetry Speaks Who I Am, a new anthology of poetry for tweens and young teens. I find that tweens sometimes find it hard to connect to poetry - they're beyond the visually stimulating, funny poems of their childhood, and yet they aren't quite ready for abstract poetry. This seems like the perfect collection to speak to tweens and teens. Can't wait to see it!
Jules at 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast shares a silly, fun poem: "A School Library Is..." by J. Patrick Lewis. See if you can guess all the titles that the poem is twisting around!
John, at The Book Mine Set, shares a review of Beautiful Sadness by Lesley Choyce.
At GottaBook, Greg has a special guest - author/illustrator/singer/songwriter Barney Saltzberg sharing some poetry: Barney Saltzberg - Winter.
Charles at FATHER GOOSE blog shares "Let's Build a Poem".
It's almost Valentine's Day! Kelly Pollark shares an original Valentine's Day poem. Oh, how sweet it is!
Madelyn Rosenberg is sharing a Mary Oliver poem about snow (well, about "Snow Geese") and encouraging everyone to write a poem about snow, too
With Blizzard #2 barreling down on her city, Sara Lewis Holmes thought a poem called "Relearning Winter" was appropriate. Even though she thinks she learned A LOT from the last blizzard. :) Come check out her blog: Read Write Believe.
Hoping to bring to mind some more carefree days than the ones she's having right now, at her blog Laura Salas is in with a poem by Tony Hoaglund called Summer in a Small Town. It spoke to me about the sense of exhaustion I can feel at times, especially bringing back memories of caring for a newborn night and day.
Diane Mayr has three poems to share! At Random Noodling she has an original haiga (an illustrated haiku) to bring some color to the winter. Kurious Kitty has a poem by Du Fu called "The Visitor."
The Write Sisters look at the book Mrs. Brown on Exhibit by Susan Katz, which will inspire a child or class to write poems to document their visit to a museum.
At Writing and Ruminating, Kelly Fineman shares an original poem entitled "Snow Moon", which certainly brought back memories of being in the snow on a wintery full moon night.
Jama Rattigan is celebrating Charles Dickens's birthday (which is on Feb. 7th), with his most well known lyric, "The Ivy Green." Check out her blog Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup.
At Wild Rose Reader, Elaine has an original fairy tale poem written in the form of a Q&A about Red Riding Hood., inspired by her folklore unit and her students own fairy tale poems. At Blue Rose Girls Elaine has a poem by Trish Crapo titled "Back Then" about childhood and innocence.
Ms. Mac at Check It Out is in with wintery responses to poetry prompts at several blogs.
At My World/Mi Mundo Stella is reviewing a poetry book: Punctuation Celebration!. It looks like a great resource for Writing Workshop! Pure fun, if you ask me.
At his blog Haunts of a Children's Writer, Jim Danielson is checking in with an original Scrabble challange poem called Personal Heath Care Reform -- the Before and After.
Shari Doyle interview poet Alma Fullerton, about her verse novel, Libertad, which follows a young boy's journey from Guatemala City north to the United States.
Tanita Davis is in with Music, which is just an astoundingly gorgeous poem by Ann Porter about the emotional impact that music can have on us, especially when we are children.
At Poetry for Children, Sylvia Vardell has written about global poetry, including a review of Canadian poet JonArno Lawson's new book, Think Again. Sylvia includes many suggestions of poetry collections published outside of the U.S., ranging from Canada to Europe to Japan.
Celebrating the snow that blanketed her area closing schools for most of the week, Tricia has a poem by Robert Haight called How Is It That The Snow. Stop by The Miss Rumphius Effect to read this poem and check out the Poetry Stretch results, with many wonderful poems - also about snow!
MaryLee at A Year of Reading is sharing a poem called You Begin by Margaret Atwood, and the answer to a really interesting question she was asked this week. I love her answer - stop by to see her reflections on teaching and sharing a passion for reading.
Over at The Simple and the Ordinary Christine shares an original poem her 13 year old daughter wrote (when she was supposed to be studying).
Karen Edmisten contributes a poem by Pablo Neruda from the movie Truly, Madly, Deeply. But I warn you, find some tissues nearby. It's a very moving poem and scene.
Jenny Brown shares All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon. In this wonderful book, Caldecott Honor artist Marla Frazee makes connections between the poem's details (highlighted in Frazee's vignettes) and it's larger themes in full-bleed illustrations. Stop by her site Twenty by Jenny to see the her review.
Miss Erin is contributing an original poem called "haunting". Take a look, it will seep under your skin.
Chicken Spaghetti is in with Black Nature, a new anthology of nature poems by African Americans. The poems "cover ground from beautiful to heartbreaking to political—and them some. You'll find Wright, Dove, Hughes, Trethewey, Giovanni, and less familiar names among the poets here." Great find - thank you for sharing.
It's always great to hear from a namesake! Over on Reading, Writing, and Recipes, Mary Ann Dames posted a cinquain for my blog's Creative Friday.
Cazzy has posted about the use of Jabberwocky to explore poetry and art. Check out The Cazzy Files.
Julie Larios is sharing her snow poem "What Snow Knows" up at The Drift Record.
At her blog Semicolon, Sherry has two poems for us today: Marlowe's "Come live with me and be my love" and Raleigh's response "If all the world and love were young."
Jennie has a review of (and poems from) one of my favorite books: Love that Dog and its sequel Hate that Cat. Check out her blog BiblioFile.
Head on over to Becky's Book Reviews, to read a review of the fantastic, amazing, beautiful book: The Bill Martin Jr. Big Book of Poetry.
In honor of Valentine's Day coming up, Nicole Schreiber posted Christopher Marlowe's poem, "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love".