cover image Harlem


Walter Dean Myers, Terry Deary. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-590-54340-8

This heartfelt tribute captures the many moods of Harlem, bringing to life a very real urban community steeped in cultural history. Myers begins his poem with the words ""Harlem was a promise/ Of a better life, of a place where a man didn't/ Have to know his place/ Simply because he was/ Black""; this cautious optimism informs the text. Children play on sidewalks and the smell of barbecue lingers. But there is sadness too-a ""fleet of funeral cars"" or ""endless depths of pain/ Singing a capella on the street corners."" Throughout, the past overlays the present, like a legacy passed down (""A journey on the A train/ That started on the banks of the Niger/ And has not ended""). Dreams dreamed in present-day Harlem are a part of this continuum, and music is the means of expression. The text pays homage to the ""weary blues that Langston knew/ And Countee sung""; to Sunday night gospel music and Lady Day on the radio. Christopher Myers, who previously illustrated his father's Shadow of the Red Moon, delivers bold collages that are both stark and lyrical. People stare out of his paintings, challenging or appealing to the viewer, or lost in reverie. Rough cut paper and daubed paint combine to create a raw immediacy. This is by no means an easy book-most of the allusions, if not the poem's significance itself, will need to be explained to children-but its artistic integrity is unmistakable; the effort its presentation to young readers may require is worth it. Ages 5-up. (Feb.)