H Is for Harlem

Little, Brown/­Christy Ottaviano. Jul. 2022. 48p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316322379.
K-Gr 4–The cultural riches of Harlem are innumerable—its museums, community centers, performance spaces, restaurants, and bookstores are all icons of Black experience in the U.S. Harlem’s triumphs, past and present, unfold in this alphabetic exploration and explosion of major landmarks, people, sports, and the arts, leaving no doubt that Harlem’s impact on the American ethos reverberates far beyond 125th Street. Johnson describes the locale as being called the “mecca of Black America, a place where African American culture is living and breathing, shining and indestructible.” Whether focused on a person, a place, or something more abstract like kinfolk, each entry weaves in just the right amount of information to build a broader understanding of what Harlem was and is. Johnson keenly incorporates more minor letter-specific highlights when the opportunity arises, broadening the work’s informational scope. The text is illuminated with patchwork illustrations that play with texture, scale, and perspective in quilt-like dissonance. Harrison’s artistic hand oscillates between naivete and realism, and the complexity of her illustrations will have young readers poring over the details. She brings an uptown cool vibe to even small grace notes, like the hand-lettering of street signs, the slant of the awnings and marquees, and the colors of the buildings, as diverse as the residents themselves in this historic village-within-a-city.
VERDICT An ode to the beating heart of African American culture with remarkable depth and breadth. This title is a celebration of Harlem’s vibrancy, dynamism, and significance.

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