Mar 1, 2014

Celebrating a Book ALL YEAR, not just Black History Month

If you've been here before, you've probably read one of my earliest posts about theme months. I expressed my strong feelings about the frequently-followed pattern of spotlighting books during a given period, then letting them fade into the background, linger on a top shelf, or even get boxed away until they are hauled out again the following year. (If you haven't read that post before, I really hope you will now.) 

Despite my concern about this pattern, I've posted reviews, links, and suggestions for outstanding titles in each theme month in the past. This February I resisted the urge to do so. I waited for March, on principle, to sing a hallelujah in praise of this picture book. It's my sincere hope you'll check it out and make it a point to share it with kids throughout the year. 

Crickhollow Books, 2012
DIDN'T WE HAVE FUN! is a collaboration between artist Hilda Robinson and writer Jeff Kunkel. This is the kind of book that is firmly anchored in a specific time, place, and culture but  appeals and offers connections for every reader.

From the publisher: 
"Celebrated artist Hilda Robinson shares the joys of growing up in a closely-knit African-American family and neighborhood in the days long before television and computer games.
Meet Hilda's four sisters and one brother, her Mama and Daddy, her Philadelphia neighborhood of red-brick row houses.
…an abiding love of life that shines through these delightful paintings with accompanying text."

...I'm back
Robinson's interpretive, light-filled paintings express both specific and global emotions. Her lens zooms in and out to capture small moments and neighborhoods, to convey action and utter stillness. Always impressionist in style, she also lends detail where needed and blurs the focus or perspective when the topic suits. The images and her attention to life's details reveal her artist's eye working  from a very young age.

Kunkel's text is based on interviews with Robinson and his understanding of her personality and memories. Although the text is not arranged as free verse, it has the rhythm and phrasing to qualify. The table of contents and titles suggest that each page turn will explore a vignette of daily life from Robinson's childhood, but the spare, rhythmic, and lyrical writing elevates it from  memoir to a more universal, thematic collection. In fact, each page would serve well as mentor text for young people writing about small moments of significance in their own lives. 

The book's title comes from the last entry, which illustrates best what I mean:

Didn't We Have Fun!

"We didn't have a car.
       We didn't have a television.
                We didn't have money.

But we had parents who loved us, 
          a good home,
          plenty to eat, 
          and lots of books, games, and friends.

Best of all, we had
                                 each other."

I hope you'll look for this book and add it to your home, classroom, or library collection.

And please, pull it from the shelves all year long.

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