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Two artists from Harlem


Staff member
Mar 22, 2024
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Jimmy’s Rhythm and Blues: The Extraordinary Life of James Baldwin by Michelle Meadows, illustrated by Jamiel Law (HarperCollins, 48 pages). Growing up in Depression-era Harlem, the oldest of nine children, James “Jimmy” Baldwin had plenty to do to help support the family. But he always loved words and found time to read everything he could get his hands on. His love of writing and art eventually led him to Paris, where he published his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain. Jimmy divided his time between France and the U.S., working for civil rights and interviewing Southerners for his essay collection The Fire Next Time. In 1971, devastated by the assassinations of Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he moved to an idyllic village in the south of France, creating a home that became a gathering place for friends and family from around the world. Includes an author’s note, James Baldwin’s oeuvre, a timeline, and photos on the endpapers.

This is a captivating biography of James Baldwin, with striking art by debut illustrator Jamiel Law. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never read anything by James Baldwin, but this book piqued my curiosity about his novels and essays. I do find it difficult to figure out the niche for picture books like this. Many reviewers recommend it for ages 4-8, but in my opinion, there’s not much here that would hold the interest of that age group. I would almost save it for middle school or high school, where it could serve as an introduction to Baldwin’s writing.

Everywhere Beauty Is Harlem: The Vision of Photographer Roy DeCarava by Gary Golio, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (Calkins Creek, 48 pages, grades 2-5). The narrative follows photographer Roy DeCarava as he wanders through Harlem after work on a summer evening, taking pictures as he goes. Most of his subjects are people, although one is a close-up of a crumpled soda can. The narrative, interspersed with quotes from Roy, is like a snapshot from his life. Readers will learn more about him through the additional information, photos, and timeline at the end, with resources provided to do more research.

The text and illustrations feel impressionistic, with just enough of a story to whet readers’ appetites. It would make a great introduction to photography, encouraging kids to look around their own neighborhoods for interesting subjects. Although there’s a list of museums featuring Roy’s photographs, it would have been nice to include a few in the book.
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