Hip Hop Speaks to Children (Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, Oct.), a collection of 51 songs and poems edited by Nikki Giovanni, isn’t only turning children on to poetry; the book and its companion audio CD is resonating with adults, too. The book’s popularity in unexpected quarters may have had some impact on sales: Hip Hop Speaks to Children landed at #9 on the New York Times children’s picture book bestseller list this past Sunday. Sourcebooks, which initially printed 20,000 copies, has already gone back to press twice, for a total of 30,000 copies in print.

Hip Hop Speaks to Children, Sourcebooks’ second poetry anthology for young readers, was inspired by the publisher’s first such anthology, Poetry Speaks to Children (2005), edited by Elise Paschen. Giovanni, one of three consulting editors for Poetry Speaks to Children, persuaded Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah to publish the book during a joint appearance at the 2006 Printers Row Book Fair, at which she led the audience in chanting, “Hip hop, hip hop.”

Politics & Prose Books in Washington, D.C., reported that Giovanni’s recent appearance, part of her 10-city national tour, attracted an audience of more than 200, including school groups, parents with their children, and even a “small number” of solo adults. The store sold out of the book, as well as copies of Giovanni’s backlist titles and recordings (since 1968, Giovanni has written or edited 34 books for adults and children and produced nine recordings). “It was busy,” recalls children’s event coordinator Gussie Lewis. “I wish I’d booked the Verizon Center.”

Nikki Giovanni.
Photo: Michael Kiernan.

At Narnia Children’s Books in Richmond, Va., manager Diane Black reported that most of the large audience for Giovanni’s recent appearance there, other than four student groups, were solo adults. “Other than the school groups, it was adults,” Black says. “The four school groups performed for Nikki—I think it was a surprise. The audience was clapping and laughing the whole time.” The store sold its entire inventory of Giovanni’s backlist titles and CDs that evening, in addition to all of its copies of Hip Hop Speaks to Children.

And School Library Journal blogger Amy Bowllan recently wrote that while listening to the Hip Hop Speaks to Children CD in her car one morning, her “all-time favorite rap,” Rapper’s Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang, began to play and she found herself “jamming in the car to poetry!”

Hip Hop Speaks to Children is also starting to resonate with radio and television media. NPR’s “All Things Considered” devoted a segment of its Oct. 13 program to the book and an interview with Giovanni. Giovanni is also scheduled for interviews on Tavis Smiley’s television show and on PBS’s This Is America.

Sourcebooks has additional multimedia poetry anthologies in the works, including 100 Best African-American Poems, edited by Giovanni, for adult readers, which the house will publish next fall; another Poetry Speaks to Children anthology, edited by Paschen, which will target middle-school readers, and The Tree That Time Built, an anthology of poems celebrating science, nature and the environment for middle-schooler, selected and edited by Children’s Poet Laureate Mary Ann Hoberman and Linda Winston.

Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat. Edited by Nikki Giovanni, illus. by Kristen Balouch, Michele Noiset et al. Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, $19.99 ISBN 978-1-4022-1048-8