AndreaLoney tells the interesting and historically important story of the photographer James VanDerZee in Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee. Born in small town Lenox, Massachusetts, James was artistically inclined but had difficulty expressing his ideas through drawing. When the only photographer in Lenox brought the only camera in town to take a family portrait of the VanDerZee family, James was captivated by the instrument and immediately began to save up for a camera of his own.
He taught himself how to both take as well as develop photographs, practicing on his classmates and his family. The call of Harlem, then in the midst of an exciting artistic and societal renaissance, eventually brought James to New York City, where he continued to hone his craft in a studio of his own. Over the decades, James took thousands of pictures of middle class African Americans and their pride in the lives they were working hard to make. These photographs, many years later, became the focus of an exhibition called “Harlem on My Mind” at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, a moving and important historical record. Andrea Loney tells this meticulously researched story beautifully, and Keith Mallett’s vibrant paintings made this book visual treat, as well.
In Martí’s Song for Freedom , Emma Otheguy writes about the Cuban poet, revolutionary hero, and journalist José Martí. Having witnessed the cruelties brought by Spain when they colonized Cuba as a young boy, Martí began writing poetry and thinking about ways in which he could use his words to fight for justice. Exiled because of his activism, Martí travelled the world with his message about equality and Cuban independence, eventually settling in New York. But his homesickness for his beloved homeland, and its continued fight for freedom brought him back home. Martí was killed in the Battle of Two Rivers early in this new war for Cuban independence, and did not live to see it succeed, but his poetry and writings inspired his people then and continue to inspire all those who believe in freedom, equality, and justice.
I loved the way Emma Otheguy wove Martí’s verses into this story, and I loved Beatriz Vidal’s stunning illustrations. This will be a wonderful addition to my classroom library of picture books dedicated to social justice.
I found this anthology of interviews Bill Moyers conducted with poets presenting at the annual Mabel Dodge Festival of Poetry in New Jersey. Moyers is an insightful and informed interviewer, and I learned so much from each of these conversations with some of my most favorite poets – what the act of writing means to each, how they go about practicing their craft, and what they hope their words will inspire. I especially loved the way each poet spoke about specific poems, analyzing their process and sharing thoughts about what brought these poems about. This will be a fabulous book to draw from in the new school year, and to share with my students.
Mary Lee Hahn had blogged about Bob Raczka’s Lemonade some time ago, and I finally got around to reading it last week – what great fun! The idea is, literally, squeezing poems from a single word, which is quite challenging, I must say (after having tried and failed multiple times).
I’m going to share this book with my kiddos at whichever point in our poetry year that calls for something completely different…something fun to take a swing at. I can just imagine the classroom when I project Raczka’s word gymnastics up on our screen – I just know that after all the oohs and ahhs, my kiddos will want to take a crack at creating single word poems, too.