cover image The Block: 3

The Block: 3

Langston Hughes. Viking Children's Books, $15.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-670-86501-7

Bearden's (1911-1988) extraordinary six-panel collage The Block, now housed at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art, is the raison d'etre of this elegant book, its selection of Hughes's poems notwithstanding. Details of Bearden's multi-layered work, which jazzily recreate the life of a busy Harlem block, are paired with soulful poems about Harlem or the African American experience. The poems are not always Hughes's best, but Bearden's art unmistakably captures the energy and pulsing rhythms of the street. In his collages black angels hover above a coffin; two haunting faces stare from a window; tiny figures dance with abandon in front of a barber shop. Both text and art are shown to advantage by the clean, angular design, which complements the tone and mood of the book as a whole. Page-long biographical sketches of Bearden and Hughes appear at the end, and are implicitly addressed to adult readers. Perhaps more suitable as a coffee table book than a work for children, the volume's strength is in its ability to convey the vitality and inventiveness of Bearden's art. All ages. (Nov.)