Harlem: Children's Book Essay

Submitted By lalalalondon
Words: 867
Pages: 4

Harlem Harlem is a Caldecott honored picture book written by Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by his son, Christopher Myers. The text of the picture book is poetic (it is written in blank verse) which made me hesitate to pick the book up off of the shelf, but the language paired with the wonderful illustrations really give the picture book a richness that I have never experienced when reading a children’s book before. The mix of the abstract pictures and choice words and phrases balance off of each other very well and help create a story within the story itself. The book is written for children in the upper-elementary age range; fourth grade students and above. I believe it is the perfect complement to an African-American history lesson. While the vagueness and variety of emotion in the text and illustrations can seem a little darker at times, the similes and metaphors paint a truthful, interesting picture of Harlem’s history. One of my favorite verses in the book is “They brought a call, a song… like a scream torn from the throat of an ancient clarinet” (n.p). It beautifully expresses how people brought native chants and songs to Harlem and sang freely upon their arrival. The picture that accompanies the verse is a man with outstretched arms standing on what seems to be the top of a building. It expresses the freedom and serenity that contrasts the verse coupled with it, but the contrast works very well. On the front cover of the book there is one man sitting under the title. Previous to reading, I assumed this man was the main character. It turns out that not only is the man not the main character, but there is no main character at all. I found it interesting that the book does not have one set cast of characters, but rather a central focus on Harlem and life inhabiting it. When I first read the book I found it a little hard to follow because being an actor, I am really used to the convention of characters and being able to follow their stories and understand their emotions. Once I got over the fact that the convention was absent, I read it again and decided to make Harlem a character in itself. That made the story within the poem make a lot more sense, and I was able to link the verses together to easily create that story. Harlem contains many African-American stereotypes, but they are not negative ones. I felt that the stereotypes that were brought up in the poem were not intended to mock the culture, but rather help the reader to embrace and enjoy it. Myers mentions soul food, jazz, basketball, gospel, and other African-American stereotypes, but in a way that makes the reader want to join in and help cook, listen, and play with the people in the illustrations. Harlem is very urban and somewhat modern in both the language and illustrations. Christopher Myers, the books artist, chose to illustrate the book with collage art. He uses a mix of painted people and scenery along with actual photographs to create a modern, colorful, urban look. In the illustration that I previously talked about with the man and his outstretched arms, a variety of what comes off as colors patch-worked together is used to create the man’s body and clothing. I feel like