November 18, 2017

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Black Contributions Matter | SLJ Spotlight

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Though black innovators have had a strong impact on American culture, they have long been marginalized or outright omitted from the dominant narrative. These titles, each penned by a celebrated, awarding-winning author, seek to illuminate, explore, and restore the legacy of black artists (specifically the poets of the Harlem Renaissance in Grimes’s One Last Word) or entrepreneurial mavericks in addition to providing historical and contemporary connections to culture and society. Each book is an evocation of the depth and richness of black artistry and creativity.

redstarBolden, Tonya. Pathfinders: The Journeys of 16 Extraordinary Black Souls. 128p. bibliog. glossary. index. notes. photos. Abrams. Jan. 2017. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781419714559.

nf-sp-bolden-pathfindersGr 5-8 –The lives of 16 fascinating and innovative black men and women are given due recognition in this masterly work. Bolden makes use of a variety of features to convey information in an accessible yet deeply enlightening manner. For instance, sidebars titled “In His/Her Time” provide historical context without burdening the main text with lengthy exposition. With a variety of subjects in different fields, from a magician to a mathematician, a bank founder to a race car driver, there is plenty of fresh report material within these pages. The clean layout and the smart design make for a book that is not only expertly researched but attractive as well. (Each chapter receives its own color palette, visually linking the content within that section together.) VERDICT Teachers and librarians seeking to further develop their history and biography collections will be thrilled with this fine offering.–Erinn Black Salge, Saint Peter’s Prep, Jersey City, NJ

redstarGrimes, Nikki. One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance. illus. by various. 128p. bibliog. ebook available. index. Bloomsbury. Jan. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781619635548.

nf-sp-grimes-onelastwordGr 6 Up –In this innovative and powerful compendium, Grimes pairs original poems with classics from the Harlem Renaissance. In a brief historical note on the period, she acknowledges the significance of black artists giving voice to the experiences of black life and cites the continued relevance of the literature of the period in a society that, decades later, still struggles with racial identity and injustice. The author credits as inspiration the messages of hope, perseverance, survival, and positivity she finds in the work of poets like Countee Cullen, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Langston Hughes, and she, too, explores these themes in her own poems. Furthermore, Grimes brilliantly uses the words of her literary predecessors to structure the book, employing the golden shovel, a form in which the words from selected lines or stanzas are borrowed, only to become the last words of each line in a new poem. The result is not only a beautiful homage to the Harlem Renaissance but also a moving reflection on the African American experience and the resilience of the human spirit: “The past is a ladder/that can help you/keep climbing.” In addition, each pair of poems—each of Grimes’s works follows the poem that inspired it—is accompanied by a full-color illustration by a prominent African American illustrator. Featured artists include Pat Cummings, E.B. Lewis, Christopher Myers, Brian Pinkney, and Javaka Steptoe, among others, and the back matter contains brief poet and illustrator biographies. VERDICT This unique and extraordinary volume is a first purchase for all middle school poetry collections.–Lauren Strohecker, McKinley Elementary School, Elkins Park, PA

Della Farrell About Della Farrell

Della Farrell is an Assistant Editor at School Library Journal and Editor of Series Made Simple

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