From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 6 Up–Myers's skill with characterization and voice are apparent as he models Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology
(Sagebrush, 1962) to bring Harlem to life for readers. A complexity of experiences comes through vividly in the varying poetic styles, from the Deacon Macon R. Allen: "Don't give me no whispering church/Don't be mumbling nothing to my Lord/You came in crying and you going out crying/So don't be holding back the word" to 14-year-old Didi Taylor: "I'd love to live on Sugar Hill/Be as rich as I could be/Then all the folks from down the way/Would have to envy me/I'd stick my hincty pinky out/Put my hincty nose in the air/Get a hincty chauffeur to drive my car/And a white girl to do my hair." Selected black-and-white photos from different time periods accompany some of the poems, but the connection to the subjects is often slight. While there are occasional references to historical events or people, this collection can be enjoyed without knowing them. The rich and exciting text will give readers a flavor of the multiplicity of times and peoples of Harlem, and the more than 50 voices will stay with them, resurfacing as their understanding of the context develops. Use this title to supplement classroom presentations, for individual or choral recitation, or simply suggest that teens find a good chair, get comfortable, and listen to what the people have to tell them.–Nina Lindsay, Oakland Public Library, CA
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*Starred Review* Gr. 7-10. In the introduction, Myers writes that he was inspired by Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology,
in which the people who live in a fictional town tell their stories in verse, and by his love of the Harlem community where he grew up. In each poem here, a resident of Harlem speaks in a distinctive voice, offering a story, a thought, a reflection, or a memory. The poetic forms are varied and well chosen. While some are formally expressed free-verse poems, others use the rhythm and rhyme of early blues songs or the graceful, informal cadences of conversational speech. Expressive period photos from Myers' collection accompany the text of this handsome book. Rather than illustrating specific poems, they help to create the look and feel of the time and place. Six vivid prose statements, called "Clara Brown's Testimony," appear throughout the volume and reflect different stages of her life. The rest of the pieces are poems revealing the experiences and personalities of 53 people, from student to retiree, from hairdresser to hustler, from live-in maid to street vendor-guitar player. Some of the individual poems are exceptionally strong and memorable. Collectively, they offer a colorful and warmly personal portrayal of Harlem. Whether used as a performance piece or read from cover to cover, this unusual book will be long remembered. Carolyn PhelanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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