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The Negro Speaks of Rivers Hardcover – January 6, 2009

4.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Ive known rivers:/ Ive known rivers ancient as the world, Hughess poem begins; like the poem, Lewiss radiant watercolors convey great depth. Rivers all over the world—the Congo, the Euphrates, the Nile, the Mississippi—become the stage for portraying the experiences of black people throughout history. As an endnote explains, the artist includes a self-portrait as well, for the line My soul has grown deep like the rivers. A particularly striking work, it depicts a man in prayer, his face in shadow as he bows his head over his joined hands; a shaft of sunlight stripes the mans forehead and shoulders while his upper body reflects the colors of all the rivers in the book—a figurative expression of Hughess conceit that people have drawn strength from life-giving waters. Other paintings are more realistic, e.g., a parent and child asleep in a hammock outside their hut near the Congo. The interplay of light, water and color unites the compositions artistically, creating a book as eloquent as the text at its foundation. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 3–6—Like the steady and determined flow of a river, this poem carries readers along as Hughes draws a metaphorical connection between the waterways of the world and African-American culture. Moving from ancient times ("I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young" or "I looked upon the Nile and raised pyramids above") to the Mississippi River and its connection to slavery, the poem offers both a time line of the African-American experience and a comment on the perseverance of the African-American soul. The exquisite illustrations make the eloquent verses all the more accessible. Lewis is at his best here, and the use of watercolors to evoke the flow of a river is particularly apt. The artist's double-page depictions of black individuals—evocative portraits of faces, an image of a parent and child asleep in a hammock outside a "hut near the Congo," or a close-up of a pair of brown hands lifting an earthenware pot—dovetail perfectly with Hughes's words and ideas. A vivid gold-infused painting of a boy and his grandfather fishing in the Mississippi's muddy waters suggests a hope that the river and the African-American soul will endure. A must for poetry collections.—Joan Kindig, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 4 - 8 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - Kindergarten
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion Book CH; First Edition edition (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786818670
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786818679
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #540,963 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Yana V. Rodgers on January 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In this beautiful and uniquely captivating book, award-winning illustrator E. B. Lewis has provided a stunning visual interpretation of Langston Hughes's signature poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." Just as Hughes' poem signals that water has served as a source of life and sorrow in the lives of black people, the illustrator's note describes how water also has special meaning in his own upbringing and work. Embedded in the poem and illustrations are some important ideas in economics, including the role of natural resources (the rivers) and human resources (the labor of black people) in our history. Teachers and parents who are seeking different genres for teaching children about black history and economics concepts may want to try poetry, and The Negro Speaks of Rivers would make an excellent point of departure.
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Format: Hardcover
The Negro Speaks of Rivers was written by Langston when he was only 20. It shows a precociousness, if that word can be applied to a young man, and certainly an adept talent of expression if precociousness is inappropriate.

It is not a long poem, but it reads beautifully and is at a level of that elementary aged children can begin to appreciate the messages and themes.

I've known rivers
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow
of human blood in human veins
My soul has grown deep like the rivers

The poem then goes on to give a glimpse of life on the Euphrates and the Congo, the Nile and the mighty Mississippi.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young

These wonderful lines are given life by the illustrator E.B. Lewis. The richness of the colors, the vibrancy of images he has chosen to illustrate the text is just impossible to describe. I can't imagine any gallery would not be delighted to have them in their collection.

The combination then of art and text is just lush and makes the book an excellent choice for the home shelves. I happen to be a mom that reads a great many books to my children, and since those selections have always included poetry. I personally love to have both types of poetry books available for them. The first sort being compilations -- like Shel Silverstein. The second sort being illustrated books of classic poems -- like The Brook by Tennyson, and this one by Langston Huges.

Do consider this for purchase. At 7 and 9, some of the message is over my children's heads, but they will grow into it, and for now they can benefit from seeing the art and hearing the words.

Pam T.
mom and reviewer at BooksForKids-reviews
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Format: Hardcover
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was 18 years old when his mind was filled with the beauty and universality of rivers, and he wrote "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."

For Black History Month it is a natural selection for many libraries. In 2009 it is especially appropriate for the library to be enjoyed by a new White House family. Also appropriate would be a new batch of books celebrating the 200th birthday of President Abraham Lincoln. That brings to mind the Lincoln Memorial which Barack Obama visited with his young daughters on the eve of his presidency - and the story of a young white child riding a bus to D.C. to experience Martin Luther King's March on Washington in 1963, now indelibly tied to the 2009 Inauguration. [[ASIN: 1585363243 Riding to Washington by Gwenyth Swain]]

Lewis, to whom the poem "became as personal as a prayer" has made evident through his sensitive paintings the fact that water is a powerful element in most lives. If rivers have impacted your life, as the Chemung & Susquehanna have mine, you will be moved by the colors and images that sing with these words of Langston Hughes. Orange-gold end papers blend with the cover of sunset on the Mississippi; other images are painted in equally moving tones.

Children listening to the Langston Hughes' poem and remembering later the vivid watercolors of E. B. Lewis, may learn more about this significant poet. (Be sure to add the title to your mental list of picture books no adult should miss reading). This is a beautiful book for sharing with children and young people, and for personal meditation.

(commentary-with-a-small-"c" by mcHaiku
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was introduced to "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" in a class for multicultural literature. I am a long time fan of Langston Hughes and feel that poetry should be introduced early and read often. The beauty of this book is that it can be addressed on several levels. A superb picture book! The age group of the class determines the depth of the discussion as the pictures are a perfect foil for the text. I purchased this book for my class for both instructional and free reading time.
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Great book... I saw the artist's work at the Noyes Gallery in NJ (original paintings from the book and other very interesting art work...He is a fabulous artist...Then I bought the book and couldn't be more pleased.... Any watercolorist should have this in his or her collection as the paintings of water are the best...I have loved the Langston Huges poem that can be used in any classroom (I used it regularly in my college classes) but now I have the best visual ever!
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