Saturday, August 4, 2012

Love to Langston, by Tony Medina

Love to Langston
by Tony Medina
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
40 pages
New York: Lee & Low
ISBN 9781584302834

Original verse describes important points in the life of black poet Langston Hughes. Notes at the back of the book elaborate on the specific inspirations of Medina's poems.

"My focus is to depict distinctive images of brown people," says R. Gregory Christie about his artwork. The face of Langston Hughes at many ages is of course a focus, but we see many other people -- students and teachers, colleagues, friends, enemies, and strangers -- depicted in watercolor. Perspective is skewed with a childlike touch, showing people floating above the ground and edges of objects either bleeding together or leaving ragged whitespace in between. The colors are bold and the skin tones varied.

In the poems about Harlem, Medina's words are full of jazz and blues -- blooblop deblee blooblop deblam! -- and have a great rhythm for reading aloud. We end with an excellent example of alliteration:

You can sit and sulk
and suck your teeth
and sigh

Or love and laugh
and live life
by and by

The premise of this book is slightly complicated: a poet writes poems about the life of a poet, using a first-person point of view. It's not autobiography, certainly, but it's hard not to compare Medina's poetic style to Hughes's. Some of the topics are the same, like opposition to racism; we learn about Langston's 7th-grade protest when he and other black students have their desks segregated from the while students at the direction of their teacher -- forming what he then calls "Jim Crow Row". As a tribute and perhaps an introduction to Hughes's life and work, the book serves a curricular purpose in a 4th or 5th-grade classroom. Hopefully it would be followed with some of the famous verse of Langston Hughes himself.

No Author Info
Illustrator Info
Media: acrylic watercolor

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