Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author
Holiday House, Fiction, Aug. 14, 2018
Suitable for Ages: 8-12
Themes: Loss, Single-parent families, Moving, Bullying, Poetry, the Great Migration, Chicago, History
Opening: “Never really thought much about Alabama’s red dirt roads, but now, all I can think about is kicking up their dust.”
Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Langston is a long way from Alabama. After his mother dies in 1946, and he and his father move to Chicago’s Bronzeville. Langston must leave behind everything that he cherishes — his family, friends, Grandma’s Sunday suppers, the red clay and the magnolia trees his mama loved so much. He misses the slow pace of life at home and how he could take his time walking home before he starts his chores.
Bronzeville is noisy. Their kitchenette apartment is just a lonely room with two beds, a table and chairs and a hot plate. Dinner is what daddy brings home and throws into a pot. At night, the sounds are loud. People talk loudly on stoops, music blares from radios, and huge rats run down the hallways. At school, Langston is teased for being too country and three boys bully him after school. But his new home has something his old home didn’t have: the George Cleveland Hall Library that welcomes the community, black and white.
The library becomes a refuge from the bullies and a place where Langston joyfully discovers another Langston, a poet whose words are powerful and speak to him of home. With the help of a kind librarian, he reads all of Langston Hughes’ poetry, discovers the power of words and is transported. A neighbor, who is a teacher, also introduces Langston to other black poets. Through poetry Langston begins to understand his mother, uncovers one of her secrets and finds healing through his namesake.
Why I like this book:
There is so much beauty in Lesa Cline-Ransome’s coming of age novel. Langston will melt your heart as he deals with loss and loneliness, and struggles to find his voice through words and poetry. It is an inspiring story that is relevant today.
The story also gives readers insight into the Great Migration of black families in search of better jobs in larger cities, like Chicago and New York. They leave behind a slower-paced life and close family relationships, to live in sub-standard housing in noisy, concrete cities.
The chapters are short, the narrative is strong and the writing is lyrical. The plot is compelling and there are themes that will spark important discussions among teens and adults. This is an important book to add to any classroom curriculum.
Favorite lines: Langston’s first visit to a public library.
I trace the letters on the covers of each and stop. One has my name. I pull it out and open to the first page.
I pick up my life
And take it with me
And I put it down in
Feels like reading words from my heart. (Pg. 21-22)
Lesa Cline-Ransome is best known for her award-winning picture books. Her most recent book, Before She Was Harriet, is illustrated by her husband, James Ransome, received six starred reviews, a Christopher Award, a Coretta Scott King Honor Award for illustration, and a nomination for a NAACP Image Award. Finding Langston is her first novel. Visit the author at her website.
*Reviewed from library copy.