I, Too, Am America

Langston Hughes, illus. by Bryan Collier. Simon & Schuster, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4424-2008-3
Caldecott Honor artist Collier (Dave the Potter) uses Hughes’s well-known poem as text for a visual history of Pullman railway porters, one of the first jobs that offered African-American men steady pay, dignity, and a ladder into the middle class. Hughes’s lines—“They send me to eat in the kitchen/ When company comes,/ But I laugh,/ And eat well,/ And grow strong”—fit beautifully with the story of the porters, giving the poem new meaning and impact. Collier’s portraits of the porters at work alternate with bold, sweeping spreads of cotton fields, onto which a porter scatters discarded books and magazines, planting knowledge along the railway lines. The story travels from South to North and from old to new, ending in Harlem, where a contemporary African-American mother rides in a subway car, her son gazing out the window. In the next spread, he’s seen in startling closeup, parting and peering between the stripes of an all-but-invisible American flag. “I, too, am America,” he says. It’s a powerful metaphor for looking at African-American history—and the issue of race in America—from the inside out. Ages 4–8. Agent: Marcia Wernick, Wernick and Pratt Agency. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/05/2012
Release date: 05/22/2012
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