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
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
Stickball heroes . . .
Living out their own slamdunk dreams
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. …