By Robert Burleigh; Leonard Jenkins (Illustrator)
Grades 1 - 6 / Robert Burleigh's inspiring text captures the magical moment when Langston Hughes came to believe in himself as a writer, as he first wrote "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."
The train that carried Hughes from Ohio to his father's ranch in Mexico is the vehicle that propels both this slice-of-life picture book and the 18-year-old's journey as a poet. As Burleigh describes the moment in his well-crafted, first-person narration, words drifted into the passenger's consciousness as the rhythm of the wheels and the specter of the Mississippi assaulted his senses. The mighty river conjured up ancient African rivers, and by the end of the trip, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" was scrawled on an envelope. Vibrant mixed-media collages will dazzle viewers. Even the shadows pulse with color and pattern. Jenkins has a gift for figural painting and an exciting sense of composition. Layers and reflections add to the dream-like mood of the long ride. Images are pulled from the paintings and screened in simplified form under the text; they appear as reverse silhouettes on backgrounds of brilliant color. The end result is a joyous celebration of the journey and the word. The story of the published piece frames the trip. An introduction and afterword place the piece and the poet in context. Worthy of reading in and of itself, Burleigh's book also offers multiple curricular connections from trains, journeys, and writing, to rivers, Harlem, and the black experience.–- Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library
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