cover image ROCK OF AGES


Tonya Bolden, , illus. by R. Gregory Christie. . Knopf, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-679-89485-8

Bolden's (33 Things Every Girl Should Know) impressionistic poem is a paean to the strong religious tradition that has provided generations of African-Americans with guidance, solace, refuge, sustenance and inspiration. The author personifies the Black Church in poetic terms, "She has done so much/ to make her people strong,/ to keep so many alive in their bodies, in their souls." Presented in fonts of varying size, the narrative sketches the history of the Black Church, from the days of slavery that predated the existence of physical sanctuaries, "When she was invisible…/ her roof nightsky,/ her flooring Godgrown pastures walled by woods…/ quiet streams did steal away to her/ preachments and soul-toned singing/ for the grit to go on, the might to keep the faith/ and hold tight to Blessed Assurance that/ Liberation was in holy order." Such lyrical passages, as well as many first-name-only references to a number of legendary figures in African-American history, may prove cryptic to picture-book readers. But Bolden clarifies and expands upon her allusions in annotated concluding notes, and Christie's (Only Passing Through) collage-like acrylic and colored-pencil portraits evoke the likeness of these great leaders. His illustrations, with their emphasis on expression and posture against backdrops of cascading colors, capture the energy and passion of the individuals—the familiar as well as the nameless—whom Bolden celebrates in this emotion-charged work. Ages 5-8. (Dec.)