cover image Harlem Hellfighters

Harlem Hellfighters

J. Patrick Lewis, illus. by Gary Kelley. Creative Editions, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-56846-246-2

Lyrical storytelling and haunting illustrations from the duo behind And the Soldiers Sang recount the achievements of the all-African-American 369th Infantry Regiment in WWI. Known as the Harlem Hellfighters, the 2,000-strong regiment was recruited with the help of “magnetic bandleader James Europe.... Even the tops of buses hosted Big/ Jim’s band, recruits hopping aboard to the/ irresistible tug of patriotism, ragtime, and jazz.” Panels in dark hues appears alongside Lewis’s free-verse poems, which feature titles like “Recruited in Song” and “Orders to Move.” These small poetic stories depict the Hellfighters’ journey to the French front, battles, and the racism back home. The often-jarring images, with their shadows and angular lines, hit hard with poignancy. One spread intimates a ghost slave ship passing the Hellfighters’ troop transport ship over the Atlantic; chained slaves stare out from an eerie fog, their faces coming closer with each panel. Classic works of art inspire Kelley’s pastels (one softer scene features an upright piano in a field of impressionist red poppies). That these musicians turned soldiers didn’t give up their music strikes a hopeful tone in this powerful tale. Ages 9–12. (Sept.)