Basking in Stories and Images A Look at Some Notable New Books by and about African-Americans on Shelves in Time for Black History Month

Article excerpt

Take the A Train.

It's the name of a song by Duke Ellington and it's the way to

Harlem, a piece of upper Manhattan that is home territory and

promised land to generations of African-Americans, Caribbean

people and Hispanics who created a cityscape, a city sound all

their own.

Harlem.

The name conjures a thousand images, dark images of the

dangerous underside of the city, bright images of hope.

Two-time Newbery honoree Walter Dean Myers and his son,

illustrator Christopher Myers, have gotten it all, the dark and

the bright, in Harlem (Scholastic, $16.95).

The text is a lyric poem.

The pictures -- bright collage art that infuses streets,

people, fire escapes, subway cars with life -- are wonderful.

Words and pictures come together to make music:

A carnival of children

People the daytime streets

Ring-a-levio warriors

Stickball heroes . . .

Living out their own slamdunk dreams

Listening

For the coming of the blues

A weary blues that Langston knew

And Countee sung

A river of blues where Du Bois waded

And Baldwin preached.

Though this book may look, at first glance, to be a children's

book, it is for any reader of any age who admires striking

images, whether made of words or illustration. And, the reader

must bring certain information to the book that a child probably

would not have. The reader must know that ring-a-levio is an

urban flight and chase game, must know the poets Langston Hughes

and Countee Cullen.

February is Black History Month and the publishing industry,

each year, schedules some of the best of the year about

African-American subjects and by African-American writers for

publication to coincide with the observance.

Here is a sample of new books especially appropriate now:

Read for Me, Mama, by Vashanti Rahaman, illustrated by Lori

McElrath-Eslick (Boyds Mills Press ($14.95). Here's a story with

a heart and a message. It's also a children's book, about

Joseph, a little boy who loves Thursday best of all the days of

the week because it's library day at school. Joseph loves books

and, more than just about anything in the world, he wants his

mama to read to him. But, she's always too busy. Or, is it

something else? When Mama begins to cry and tells Joseph that

she can't read to him because she can't read, mother and child

face the problem and the challenge together. …