on December 8, 2009
I won this book at the Dexter Educational Foundation's annual Silent Auction, in February of 2007. It was in a basket of selected favorites of the faculty at Wylie Elementary School (grades 3 and 4). I bought the entire collection for $50, and am enjoying working my way through all the books.
This non-fiction narrative, describing the early life of Langston Hughes, and how he became inspired to write poetry, is a joy to read. Leonard Jenkins' jazz-like artwork blends well with Robert Burleigh's text, which in turn fits the style of Hughes himself.
Two thoughts ran through my mind, as I read it.
First, what a shame it is, when a young person knows that he or she was meant to do something like write poetry, or music, or teach, or create beautiful art; only to be discouraged by other trusted people that urge them to be "reasonable." How much beauty has been lost to the world, because of this?
Second, Hughes' linking of the Mississippi River to other Rivers, particularly the great Congo and Nile, of Africa, and from there to the blood flowing through our own veins, is a stunning reminder of how we all are connected. Rivers provide a wonderful illustration of that insight.
This book should be in every school classroom. I would place it in high schools as well as primary schools. I hope that American teachers use it to encourage children to follow their dreams, and their true life purpose.
I also hope that they can instill in American youth, a sense of pride of their own roots. My surname means, in old German "Little creek." I can look at creeks in a different way now. And we can teach the interconnectivity of all the people in the world. Ultimately, we all drink from the same river. The same blood flows through us all.
Langston Hughes was a great American. Few have ever illuminated our nation as honestly and accurately as he. His recognition of its ugliness is always tempered with love for it.