Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

February All Year Long

We have crossed the midway point between the official date of winter, December 21, 2014, and that of spring, March 20, 2015. In the northern hemisphere cold and snow are frequent companions but so too are times of rest and reflection.  Hours spent in wintry walks and next to a crackling fire are meant to bring renewal and a time to pursue our passionate interests and expand our knowledge in other areas.

Within the last twenty-four hours I stepped back into history through the written words of Charles R. Smith Jr. and the illustrations of Shane W. Evans.  Their collaboration, a labor of love, has created 28 Days:  Moments In Black History That Changed The World (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, January 13, 2015).  It's a chronicle of achievements, against all odds, by men and women of incredible strength.  It's a documentation of four momentous legal decisions.

Day 1
March 5, 1770
Crispus Attucks
is shot by a British
soldier, beginning the Boston Massacre
and, ultimately, the Revolutionary War.

For the remaining 28 days (29 entries are included to compensate for leap year) details meant to inform and inspire are presented in the text and images.  We begin in 1770 and end two hundred, thirty-nine years later with the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.  From birth to death the changes in their lives brought about changes in everyone's lives.

We read of the courage of Crispus Attucks who stood in front of men with guns, knowing his life was likely going to end.  We read of the Dred Scott decision which unjustly continued Dred Scott's life as a slave.  We read of the cunning of Robert Smalls, a wheelman, who presents the Union with a ship he liberated from the Confederates.  We read of the Constitutional amendment, the 14th Amendment, which declared all people as citizens of the United States if they were born or naturalized here.  We read with admiration of the skill performed by Daniel Hale Williams in the saving of another's life at Provident Hospital, Chicago, Illinois, in 1893.  This hospital was opened by Daniel Hale Williams to serve all people regardless of their skin color.  Yet we read of the Plessay v. Ferguson decision three years later stating separate but equal is fair.

Matthew Henson traveled again and again with Robert Peary to reach the North Pole with decades passing before he was acknowledged.  Harriet Tubman traveled back and forth and back and forth bringing people from the South to the North to freedom but also earned full military honors at her burial.  Henry Johnson traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to fight for the life of a comrade during World War I, as a Harlem Hellfighter.  Madam C. J. Walker traveled from state to state from one life to another earning a place in financial history.  Traveling the skies Bessie Coleman flies anywhere in the world after receiving her international pilot's license in France.  We are given answers about each one of these heroes.

Jesse Owens' triumph in the Olympics, Marian Anderson's song at the Lincoln Memorial and Jackie Robinson's second-base position for the Brooklyn Dodgers will have you cheering for their perseverance.  The Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 was a step in the right direction to erasing injustices for children.  Rosa Park's refusal, Althea Gibson's and Arthur Ashe's skill and the bravery of the "Little Rock Nine" will have you cheering even louder for their willingness to challenge.

Your respect for Wilma Rudolph from a victim of polio to a star athlete will soar.  Your understanding of Martin Luther King Jr. whose voice was heard around the world and of Malcolm X whose voice carried a promise will expand.  Your recognition of accomplishments by Thurgood Marshall and Shirley Chisholm will have you passing on little known pieces of information about each of them.  I remember the day Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record.  It should be noted he still holds another unbroken record in the field of baseball.

Guion "Guy" Bluford and Mae Jemison left the boundaries of earth to reach for the stars aboard space shuttles as the first African American man and woman to do so.  The world knows Nelson Mandela for his unprecedented achievements but we are also told about the nickname given to him.  Decades after the monetary success of Madame C. J. Walker Oprah Winfrey is the first black female billionaire in world history among her other numerous feats.  You know Barack Obama as our first African American president but the number of years he served as a United States Senator prior to this distinguished honor might be new to you.  These people and these events are integral to the history of America.

From the moment you read the first entry of twenty-nine you are aware of the painstaking research and dedication given by Charles R. Smith Jr. to this project; highlighting in the best possible way his vision of these men and women and the significant decisions.  His presentation might be poetic, actual statements or a eulogy. According to the person being portrayed, his poems vary in style.

Each entry begins with a single sentence containing a date. This is followed by Smith Jr.'s tribute or recognition.  A more detailed paragraph in fine print appears as a final item.  Here is a single passage, one of my favorites.

Day 12
August 9, 1936 Jesse Owens
wins his fourth Olympic gold medal.

The eyes of Hitler
focus in on the track
on Olympian Jesse Owens,
American and black.

The son of a sharecropper
and grandson of a slave
lines up in the starting block
as the Nazi flag waves.  ...

When I first opened the matching dust jacket and book case rendered, as all the illustrations are using mixed medium collage, oil, and digital techniques by Shane W. Evans, I felt hope touching me like the rays stretching out from his image.  This picture shows all people facing toward the sun as if welcoming a new day.  The blue used in 28 Days is the same color found on the opening and closing endpapers.  The title page is a recreation of the text placed above a rising sun.  The golden yellow is used on the verso and dedication page, the author and artist notes (which I highly recommend you read) and the bibliography page.

The visuals for each date, with the exception of four, extend across two pages.  As I have looked at these over and over I am stunned by their individual eloquence but also cognizant of the single thread tying them together.  Every single one, regardless of the color palette, which is a direct reflection of the subject, is awash in vibrancy.

Single details, the specific elements, have been placed with care on the pages.  Recurring components, stars, rays and swirls further bind the dates together.  The specific information on Robert Smalls is found in the smoke coming from the ship he sailed from the Confederacy to the Union.  Words can be found in the rays coming from the ball hit by Jackie Robinson and in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s voice.  Baseball is spelled out beneath the feet of Hank Aaron.  The outstretched arms of Guion "Guy" Bluford and Mae Jemison are used to feature the countdown 10-1 text about each of them.

My favorite illustration is for

Day 19 September 11, 1960 Wilma Rudolph wins third Olympic gold medal.  

The emotion shown on her face and in the stretch of her stride is a thing of beauty. Evans has her running toward the right on the track with blue sky and clouds behind her.  He uses the ribbons and medals as a border on that side.

I can't imagine a personal or professional shelf not holding a copy of 28 Days:  Moments In Black History That Changed The World written by Charles R. Smith with illustrations by Shane W. Evans.  Familiar names and events are elevated by more information. New men and women will find a place in your perception of history.

For more information about Charles R. Smith Jr. and Shane W. Evans please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  If you follow this link to the publisher's website eight more pages are there for you to view.  This book was part of a trifecta hosted by teacher librarian extraordinaire, John Schumacher, at Watch. Connect. Read., third grade teacher Colby Sharp, champion of reading, on his blog sharpread and at the Nerdy Book Club.  I encourage you to read these interviews of both men and the thoughts of Charles R. Smith Jr. about this book.

Don't forget to visit Kid Lit Frenzy where educator Alyson Beecher is hosting the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  Other bloggers have listed their favorite nonfiction books for this week.


  1. Oh, wow. What a title! Thanks for your consistently beautiful and celebratory reviews.

    1. This is a memorable book Carrie. And you are welcome. Thanks for visiting.

  2. Just pinned this title. I am a huge fan of Shane Evans' art. Will definitely find a way to order this in.

    1. Myra, the collaboration between these two has created an outstanding book. The artwork is stunning.

  3. This is the second book tonight that is not at my local library. I have a few titles to request for purchase now....

    1. I hope it arrives there soon Michele. This is one fine book.