There are books brimming with glorious illustrations, lifting the narrative to new heights. There are books with colors, patterns, light and shadow carefully pieced and placed together, singing off the page like a melody straight from the creator's soul to our hearts. There are books with words and images complementing each other in such excellence they are engraved in our memories. Hey Black Child (Little, Brown And Company, November 14, 2017) written by Useni Eugene Perkins with illustrations by Bryan Collier is all of those books.
Hey Black Child
Do you know who you are
Who you REALLY ARE
You have potential to unlock all your dreams. Each time you try to follow those dreams, you are much closer to making them come true. Listen.
There is a path for each one of you to follow. It was started before you were born. It is growing and changing. As you travel lessons are presented to you. When you endeavor to learn those lessons, you come closer to what you want. Listen.
There is strength inside each of you regardless of your physical size. You need to build on this strength. It will support you, this inner power, in all you do. Listen.
Children are encouraged to lift up their potential, take strides down the path and use the power each one has inside to accomplish everything they want to be and can be. By doing these things and maintaining focus, the nation in which they live, will be a place of their design. Listen.
When read for the first time, the poem written by Useni Eugene Perkins urges you to read it again. The words when read silently are indeed commanding but when read aloud they resonate long after they are uttered. The repetition of the opening words ties each portion together with a call, a request to listen.
For these portions Useni Eugene Perkins forms the initial phrases as a question. He then follows with another series of phrases which are part question but are mostly affirmations containing the promise of wonderful accomplishments to come in the future. These portions are connected to the concluding words by emphasizing the central thought in each section as a statement.
Upon opening, unfolding, the dust jacket for Hey Black Child you are immediately captivated by the radiant beauty and heartfelt happiness on each child's face. The blue rays, solid and patterned, are carried to the left, on the back of the jacket. (I am working with an F & G. My copy of the finished book is arriving tomorrow.) The use of primary colors is continued on the back with the boy wearing a blue shirt and the girl wearing a top of blended primary and secondary colored dots. Two balloons, one a larger yellow, with a smudge of red, and one red, smaller in size, float above the two children. On a yellow spine, the four children are featured above and below the title text.
On a canvas of pale, washed blue, balloons in hues of green, yellow, blue, red, and orange drift on the opening and closing endpapers. A much lighter version of the dust jacket background spans the two pages for the title. Two of the children, a boy with his back to us and holding a paint brush as if he has painted the letters and a girl, thoughtfully gazing downward, holding her arms as if in a dance movement, are placed with three balloons moving off the pages.
These illustrations rendered
in watercolor and collage on 400-pound Arches watercolor paper
and each covering two pages, edge to edge, are stunning. The four children are featured from varying points of view. In the greeting we are brought close to their luminous faces. With a page turn past or current events serve as a link to the present. In a subtle shift the future for each is shown leading to the conclusion.
Rays of light and balloons figure prominently in most of the images. Bryan Collier has supplied an artistic bridge from one picture to the next; the boy is painting the girl dancing, the dancer plays a piano moving into the boy among trophies of people holding significant signs and then to a little girl with a telescope. This illustration is when the present, a child, is shown in another child's future. The final picture is full of hope and inspiration, a hand reaching upward, rays bursting among real children and past events.
One of my many favorite illustrations is the first one. On the left a collage of balloons rises from the bottom of the page. Behind one of them the face of an African man, wearing traditional clothing, looks at us. To the right on a pieced background of fabric or wallpaper is the first child, a boy. His face covers most of the page. You can see the bottom portion of a crown he is wearing. His face, oh his beautiful face, is so full of joy you can feel tears of sheer happiness spring to your eyes. The energy in this visual will lift you up.
This book, Hey Black Child written by Useni Eugene Perkins with illustrations by Coretta Scott King Award winner and Caldecott Honoree Bryan Collier, is a title you will want to be a part of your professional and personal collections. If happiness, hope, faith and love could be held in your hands, this book is the means. In an Author's Note Useni Eugene Perkins speaks about this poem originally written in 1975 and its impact. Bryan Collier has written an Illustrator's Note about what he hopes his art brings to the words written by Perkins.
To learn more about Useni Eugene Perkins I discovered an older interview at The History Makers. At School Library Journal read Useni Eugene Perkins On Adapting His Iconic Poem into Picture Book Form. To discover more about Bryan Collier and his other work please follow the link attached to his name to access his website. In 2013 Bryan Collier is interviewed at School Library Journal by Rocco Staino. At Reading Rockets Bryan Collier speaks in a series of videos. You are going to enjoy this video with Bryan Collier talking about Hey Black Child.