From School Library Journal
Grade 1-5–The train that carried Hughes from Ohio to his father's ranch in Mexico is the vehicle that propels both this slice-of-life picture book and the 18-year-old's journey as a poet. As Burleigh describes the moment in his well-crafted, first-person narration, words drifted into the passenger's consciousness as the rhythm of the wheels and the specter of the Mississippi assaulted his senses. The mighty river conjured up ancient African rivers, and by the end of the trip, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" was scrawled on an envelope. Vibrant mixed-media collages will dazzle viewers. Even the shadows pulse with color and pattern. Jenkins has a gift for figural painting and an exciting sense of composition. Layers and reflections add to the dream-like mood of the long ride. Images are pulled from the paintings and screened in simplified form under the text; they appear as reverse silhouettes on backgrounds of brilliant color. The end result is a joyous celebration of the journey and the word. The story of the published piece frames the trip. An introduction and afterword place the piece and the poet in context. Alice Walker's Langston Hughes
(HarperCollins, 2002) and Tony Medina's Love to Langston
(Lee & Low, 2002) offer complementary information on Langston's life, the latter in poetic form. Worthy of reading in and of itself, Burleigh's book also offers multiple curricular connections from trains, journeys, and writing, to rivers, Harlem, and the black experience.–Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library
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Gr. 3-6. The great Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes wrote one of his most anthologized poems, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," at the age of 18 while on a train to visit his father, who left when Langston was a child. This dramatic picture book focuses on the instant when the young writer scribbled his famous poem on an envelope. In an author's note, Burleigh explains that his aim was to capture "the moment when Hughes came to believe in himself as a writer." But what are Burleigh's sources for picking this particular moment? In Hughes' autobiography The Big Sea
(1940), the poet makes clear that he already had "a whole notebook full of poems" by then, so the message seems forced. The appeal here is the poem itself, printed in full, and in Jenkins' beautiful, rhythmic collage illustrations, which capture the changing view through the train window, the dreaming writer in his seat, the sweep of African American history in the poem, and the vital Harlem streets where Hughes' poetry is celebrated. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved