February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins | SLJ Review

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redstarPERKINS, Useni Eugene. Hey Black Child. illus. by Bryan Collier. 40p. Little, Brown. Nov. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316360302.

PreS-Gr 3 –Collier’s characteristic watercolor-and-collage masterpieces bring joy and gravity to Perkins’s inspirational poem. With a compelling rhythm that begs for recitation, the verse (often misattributed to Countee Cullen) celebrates the power and potential of black children. The illustrations pair young black faces with visions of their successful futures as astronauts, artists, politicians, and more and feature some of the artist’s favorite motifs, including soaring balloons and rays of light. The visuals also contribute historical heft to the lyrical affirmation, layering images from African civilizations, the civil rights movement, and Black Lives Matter into the spreads, connecting the book’s triumphs to African Americans’ roots and ongoing struggles against racism and oppression. The poem closes with a reminder of the importance of the contributions of black children and the adults they grow up to be: “Be what you can be/Learn what you must learn/Do what you can do/And tomorrow your nation/Will be what you want it to be.” Author and illustrator notes ensure that dedicated readers can appreciate all the fine details in the text and visuals. VERDICT A rousing celebration and call to action, this book is a great choice for every library.–Robbin E. Friedman, Chappaqua Library, NY

This review was published in the School Library Journal September 2017 issue.

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