Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Finding Langston

Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author

Holiday House, Fiction, Aug. 14, 2018

Pages: 108

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 

Chicago, Detroit,

Buffalo, Scranton.

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.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from library copy.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy by Tony Medina and 13 Artists

Thirteen ways of Looking at a Black Boy

Tony Medina & 13 Artists

Penny Candy Books, Poetry, Feb. 13, 2018

Pages: 40

Suitable for Ages: 6-11

Themes: Poetry, Black boys, Everyday life, Emotions, Creativity, Potential

Opening: Anacostia Angel

Fly bow tie like wings

   Brown eyes of a brown angel

His Kool-Aid smile sings

   Mama’s little butterfly

Daddy’s dimple grin so wide

Synopsis:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy by Tony Medina offers a fresh perspective of young men of color by depicting thirteen views of everyday life: young boys dressed in their Sunday best, running to catch a bus, going to school, sitting on stoops on hot summer days, flirting with girls, participating in athletics, and growing up to be a teacher who gives back to the community who raised him. Each of Tony Medina’s tanka poems is matched with a different artist―including recent Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Award recipients.

Why I like this book:

Tony Medina has penned a stunning collection of 13 poems that celebrate the lives of black males, from birth to adulthood, who are brimming with potential. He focuses on the beauty found in the everyday lives of Black boys, who Medina considers “an endangered species.”

Medina’s has collaborated with 13 award-winning artists who show off their splendid skills through oil, watercolor,  pen and ink sketches, collage, and mixed media. I wanted to name all of the artists so readers will understand the powerful art that bring each poem to life. They include Floyd Cooper, Cozbi A. Cabrera, Skip Hill, Tiffany McKnight, Robert Liu-Trujillo, Keith Mallett, Shawn K. Alexander, Kesha Bruce, Brianna McCarthy, R. Gregory Christie, Ekua Holmes, Javaka Steptoe, and Chandra Cox.

The poems are written in tanka form, a Japanese syllabic, verse form, much like haiku.  It consists of 31 syllables distributed along five lines. Each poem is short, passionate and timely and introduces young people to reading and writing poetry.

This collection is a treasure for parents to read and reread to their children. There many creative ways to use this book at home and in the classroom.

Resources: There is a beautiful poetic Introduction by Medina. The backmatter includes information on the artists, and Notes that address the title, the poetic style (tanka), and the history of the Anacostia area in Washington D.C. This would be an excellent opportunity to encourage children to try write a poem using tanka or haiku. Or use the art in the book as inspiration to create their own drawing using a variety of mediums.

Tony Medina is a two-time winner of the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People (DeShawn Days and I and I, Bob Marley), is the author/editor of nineteen books for adults and young readers. A Professor of Creative Writing at Howard University, Medina has received the Langston Hughes Society Award, the first African Voices Literary Award, and has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes for his poems. Jacar Press recently published his anthology Resisting Arrest: Poems to Stretch the Sky, on police violence and brutalities perpetrated on people of color. Tu Books published Medina’s debut graphic novel I Am Alfonso Jones in 2017. He lives in Washington D.C.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Reviewed from library copy.

I Am in Here: The Journey of a Child with Autism

I Am in Here:  The Journey of a child with Autism Who Cannot Speak but Finds Her Voice

Elizabeth M. Bonker and Virginia G. Breen, Authors

Revell, Baker Publishing Group, Oct., 2011, Nonfiction

Suitable for:  Parents, and Teens and Adults with Autism

Theme:  Autism Spectrum, Poetry, Finding a Voice

Synopsis:  Elizabeth was diagnosed with autism at age 13 months and lost her ability to speak at 15 months.  Until then, she was progressing normally.  She was diagnosed as mentally retarded by specialists, but her intelligence is now considered in the genius range.  Her older brother Charles also has autism, but is very talkative.  Virginia admits the autism journey is like riding a roller coaster as they heard of new treatments daily and had to make their own decisions about what would work for their children.   In their attempt to reach Elizabeth,      her parents worked with a woman who developed teaching method called Rapid Prompting Method (RPM).  The program worked for Elizabeth.  She began to write single-word answers and then full sentences with a letterboard.   From ages seven to thirteen, Elizabeth has written more than 100 poems, in which she talks about her inner world and her connection with the world around her.  She is a self-taught poet who was born with a gift to write.  I found it interesting that Elizabeth does her homework on a laptop computer, but writes her poetry on the letterboard.  I have told you enough about Elizabeth.  Now I want you to meet this beautiful soul.

 ME

I sometimes fear
That people cannot understand
That I hear
And I know
That they don’t believe I go
To every extreme
To try to express
My need to talk.
If only They could walk
In my shoes
They would share my news:
I  am here
And trying to speak every day
In some kind of way.   (age 9)

I wrote Me to let people know that even though I don’t speak, I feel and understand the world around me.  I want to be heard and respected.  I want that for everyone, especially for people like me.” – Elizabeth

Me Revisited

I can’t sit still.
What’s wrong with me?
My body is doing things
I can’t explain.
My dignity I am trying to maintain.
People Stare at me
When I rock and shake.
I don’t know how much
More I can take.
So much to deal with
Going on inside me.
I wish I could get better.
I want to be set free
From my silent cage.

“Some of the people at school who do not know me make me feel uncomfortable.  They stare at me.  I would not rock and shake if I could stop it.  It just happens sometimes  I wish they could understand, but mostly I wish I could explain it to them. ” – Elizabeth

Bright Future

When you see
A tree
Think of me
Growing strong and tall.

When you see
The Sun shining brightly
Think of me
Tough and mighty.

When you see
The water on the lake
Think of the future
I plan to make.

Me
Strong
Mighty
Free

Why I like this book:  Elizabeth’s book, co-authored with her mother Virginia, is an inspirational and powerful beacon that will offer much hope to parents with children in the Austism Spectrum.   It is a profoundly moving and spiritual journey between a mother and daughter.   Elizabeth shows great courage and determination in learning to communicate, despite the fact that she lacks fine motor skills to write.  She types one letter at a time with her forefinger.  Her optimism is remarkable as she wants people to find peace in her book.

For Virginia, “Elizabeth has become my teacher, and I am learning to think about life, faith, and relationships in a whole new way.  I have come to see the world as divided into Why People and How People.   Why People cannot be at peace until they answer the question of why suffering has befallen them.  How People ask “How can I move forward?  Having been dealt their hand in life, their focus shifts to how they can find whatever healing and wholeness is possible.”  For Virgina, her 13-year-old daughter is a miracle who has “shattered the silence of autism through her beautiful poetry.”   I Am in Here, is a masterpiece of poetry and prose.  And we are so fortunate to capture a rare glimpse into Elizabeth’s beautiful mind and world.

You can visit Elizabeth at her website I Am in Here, and read the first two chapters of her book for free under “Book” and “Read a Passage.”   You will also find  videos, resources and other information.    Virginia has also indicated that Amazon is having a Kindle special price of $2.99 for I Am in Here during the month of March. 

Autism Awareness Month is approaching  in April.  For information contact Autism Speaks .   Join Autism Speaks in celebrating World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 and Light It Up Blue to help shine a light on autism. Whether it’s your front porch or your local city hall, an office party or a banquet, the entire world is going blue to increase awareness about autism.  The month will be filled with activities.  Among the buildings going blue last year were the: Empire State Building, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, Niagara Falls, Al Anoud Tower in Saudi Arabia,  Cairo Tower in Egypt, Great Buddha at Hyogo in Japan, CN Tower in Canada and Sydney Opera House in Australia.