We read their words. We listen to their words. We study their words. Their words sing to our souls and enter our beating hearts.
Like composers of musical masterpieces, poets supply us with the ability to create our own melodies from their words. Surely some of those melodies we make are the same, but others will resonate in differing harmonies. In her eighty-three years one wonderful woman left her poetic mark on the world. A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks (Sterling Books for Children, January 1, 2019) written by Alice Faye Duncan (Memphis, Martin, And The Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968) with illustrations by Xia Gordon is a lovely and loving lyrical and stunning pictorial tribute.
SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks
Sing it loud---a Chicago blues.
Skip to the beat of elevated trains.
They grumble, rumble, and roll real fast.
In 1925 Gwendolyn Brooks was eight years old, unsure of what was possible. Even then she wrote daily in her journals while other girls and boys were at play. Writing was a solitary experience for this gifted child.
Her father worked as a janitor to support his family. Her mother stayed at home. A younger brother was Gwendolyn's best friend. Gwendolyn watches the world of her Chicago home and it watches her. Others are not always kind.
Her parents see her gift and support it completely. When accused of plagiarism by a school teacher, Mrs. Brooks marches with her daughter back to school and settles the matter immediately. Gwendolyn pens an original poem on the spot. Now this beautiful child understands what her parents have always known.
She is allowed to write instead of working inside or outside of their home. Before graduating high school, her poetry is published in the Chicago Defender. Her mother declares how high her fame will go.
Gwendolyn studies with other poets, she wins a contest, she graduates from college, marries and a son is born to her and her husband. She writes and writes, and her fame grows. In 1950 Gwendolyn Brooks wins a Pulitzer Prize; the first Black American to win this award. Her mother was right.
Within seconds you find the fibers in your being, your breathing, syncing to the rise and fall of the stanzas written by Alice Faye Duncan. Each of the nine portions of her narrative about poet Gwendolyn Brooks begins with
SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks.
This joyful declaration is followed by individual incidents, descriptions of her days and family life and being a part of the community on the South Side of Chicago. Alice Faye Duncan includes several of Gwendolyn Brooks' poems to emphasize her biographical portrait. Here is a passage,
SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks.
Chicago teems with Black sharecroppers from Dixie towns.
While jobs are scarce in the Great Depression,
Migrants slog and scrounge for decent work.
Gwen is Sweet Sixteen in '33.
She is feathery voice and flickering flame.
She gushes and giggles over Shakespeare sonnets.
Her parents are wise and see her light.
They do not yell, "Go mop the floor!"
And when high school chums must look for work,
Gwendolyn is free to sit and think.
The front of the dust jacket (I am working with a digital copy of the book.) is completely breathtaking. The color palette radiates warmth and light and the pure truth of knowing you have chosen the right path for your life. This is the face of a woman you want to know. This is the face of an astonishing human being.
The opening and closing endpapers appear to be a dark gray with pale yellow scroll work of leaves and flowers in diagonal rows. This is in direct reference to opening and closing selections of Alice Faye Duncan's narrative. On the title page the lively smiling face of Gwendolyn Brooks looks to the left of readers.
Each of the distinctive illustrations by Xia Gordon appear to be a double-page picture even if a section seems to be a separate full page. The hues used blend seamlessly from left to right. For most of the images a pale yellow, almost cream, figures prominently connecting one page to the next. Her people and other significant elements are created with smooth flowing lines and a noticeable use of highlights and shadows.
One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages. The text references the neighborhood where Gwendolyn lives with her husband and son. This community fuels her writing. Xia Gordon chooses to focus on a church and its steeple going through the clouds. Shades of orange, yellow, red and purple color the buildings. Clouds gather and swirl in tan, cream and white.
This biographical accolade to this remarkable poet, A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks written by Alice Faye Duncan with illustrations by Xia Gordon, is marvelous, uplifting and inspirational. It would be an excellent choice for an introduction to writing, a study of American poets, a unit on biographies or the art of writing poetry. At the close of the book there is an author's note, Gwendolyn Brooks timeline, suggested reading by Gwendolyn Brooks and a bibliography. I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.
To learn more about Alice Faye Duncan and Xia Gordon and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Both Alice Faye Duncan and Xia Gordon have accounts on Twitter. Alice Faye Duncan and Xia Gordon are also on Instagram. The cover reveal and an interview can be found at A Fuse # 8 Production hosted by Elizabeth Bird. Alice Faye Duncan is interviewed by author Deborah Kalb.
Educator Alyson Beecher is hosting the 2019 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge at Kid Lit Frenzy. I am very grateful for this opportunity to participate and to find other nonfiction books.