Feb 21, 2018

BLACK BOYS: THREE Fresh Looks to Celebrate

When I began working on today's post, I was excited to notice for the first time that the total page views since I began posting six years ago have topped 150,000! That's hardly a tsunami of readers but it is more than I could have imagined back at the start of this journey.
And that landmark was passed during the week I shared thoughts on BALDERDASH and the ALA Awards, which you can watch on video if you missed it live last week. I was excited, of course, but not nearly as thrilled as I've been to see the wide success of three recent releases celebrating black culture: two picture books and one film. 
Agate Bolden, 2017

One of the books that garnered MANY awards and honors during the ALA awards last week was also a finalist in my CYBILS category for poetry: CROWN: An Ode to the FRESH CUT, deftly written by Derrick Barnes and gloriously illustrated by Gordon C. James. A series of short poems unfold in a cumulative homage to the power of a skilled barber to shape a life:
"You came in as a lump of clay
a blank canvas, a slab of marble.
But when my man is done with you,
they'll want to post you up in a museum!
That's my word!"

The flow of each phrase, image, and page-turn draws readers on to a flourishing conclusion, providing for some a pure revelation of the culture of a barbershop focused on maximizing the unique qualities of African American hair. For others this will be a mirror of their own lives, revealing every angle and sheen with each turn of phrase and shift of perspective. The density of color and tone, the finesse of positioning and perspective, and the subtle depth and humor in this picture book make the individuals spring to life and claim their place in the world, far beyond the world of a barbershop. They are both specific and universal, entirely complex and appealing, and unforgettable.

Penny Candy Books, 2018
This second picture book may garner similar awards for the coming year. THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT A BLACK BOY, is written by Tony Medina in tanka poetry form, with each spread illustrated by a noted, often award-winning, black illustrator. Each spread reveals a specific facet of young black boys'/men's experience. As with CROWN (above), these poems and images will reflect or reveal to readers aspects of black lives that resonate, surprise, inspire, and excite. Even more so, they will individualize and personalize lives that matter, erasing assumptions and stereotypes. Read just one sample, here, and see how perfectly these two picture books will serve to compare, contrast, and consider:
Brothers Gonna Work It Out

We righteous Black men
Patrol the should of this 'hood
Raise young bloods proper
To be the kings they are
Crowned glory of our future

Even though the poems and images are compelling, even captivating, but pull yourself away from those spreads long enough to read the introduction, the brief artist biographies in the back, and the thank you note from the author.

Finally, I can't personally recommend the recently released  movie, BLACK PANTHER, because I haven't seen it yet. Nevertheless, I plan to see it as soon as possible and  recommend it for the same reason as the two picture books featured here. Until I do, there is a graphic novel/comic book update of the original Marvel Comics by none other than Ta-Nehisi Coates: BLACK PANTHER: A Nation Under Our Feet. Of course this is not aimed at the typical picture book audience. Still, I've developed that surprising number of page views over the past years in part because of the premise of this blog: picture books (and comic books, and graphic novels) have a particular power that can reach readers of any age. I'm convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that these are just precursors to a wave of books and other media that will invite new and open-minded views of "Black lives", not only for non-black readers but for readers of every ethnicity.

Do yourselves a favor and read all three!

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Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.