Review by Booklist Review
Inspired by a photo of Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka boogeying down at a 1991 gathering at the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center, this high-stepping shoutout to the honoree of that historic "hoopla in Harlem" pays tribute to the "king of letters," celebrating the man "who wrote Maya and Amiri into the world" with his "wake-up stories / and rise-and-shine rhymes," who answered would-be "word breakers" and book burners with courage and laughter. In illustrations as rhythmic and exuberant as Reynolds' narrative, Langston and the other two luminaries may occupy center stage (their bodies ingeniously constructed from words and the brushed letters of their names), but the entire alphabetically arranged lineup of guests looking on from the bookshelves are familiar names--from Ashley Bryan to Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison to Octavia Butler, Countee Cullen to Nikki Giovanni to Gwendolyn Brooks. Evocative and celebratory words float around the dancers like strains of music, all the way to a culminating whirl of letters, laughter, and joy. The author pairs the original photo with a loving afterword. Who knew these esteemed literary lions could cut a rug like that?
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
The creators' high-stepping testament to the enduring cultural influence of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes (1901--1967) begins with the promise of a party: "a jam in Harlem to celebrate the word-making man." Rhythmic lines from Newbery Honoree Reynolds, making his picture book debut, aptly describe Hughes as "the best word maker around./ Could make the word MOTHER feel/ like real warm arms wrapped around you." In illustrations rendered with handmade stamps, Ezra Jack Keats Award Honorees the Pumphrey brothers apply stylized typography throughout, as on a page in which mother makes up the figure of a parent embracing a child. In the run-up to the party, pages hint at Hughes's ability to turn words into laughter that "rang out/ for years and years." And so, in 1991 at the NYPL's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, "a fancy-foot,/ get-down,/ all-out bash" is held in the poet's honor. There, the works of other Black writers peer out from book spines, and literary successors Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka dance "like the best words do, together." Melding celebratory text and kinetic, graphical art, the creators underscore the power of the subject's poetry to move and to inspire. Figures are portrayed with brown skin throughout. An author's note concludes. Ages 4--8. Author's agent: Elena Giovinazzo, Pippin Properties. Illustrators' agent: Hannah Mann, Writers House. (Oct.)
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Review by School Library Journal Review
PreS-Gr 3--Reynolds is a richly resonating, flawless cipher for his exuberant celebration of Langston Hughes. His author's note explains how he discovered a photo of "two of [his] favorite word makers, Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka … dancing" and had to know why, then had to share that revelation in a book. For utmost enlightenment, combining audio and print is essential. Award-winning Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey's illustrations are pure brilliance, transforming Reynolds's words into pictures--"BLUES" becomes a musical trio, "MOTHER" a woman enveloping her child, "MAYA" and "AMIRI" boogie-ing partners. The party's details are never mentioned in audio and solely visible in the brothers' art. Only in print can audiences revel in the chorus of legendary witnesses (in alphabetical order, mimicking library shelves)--from Octavia Butler to Richard Wright--who overlook the "dazzle." VERDICT Reynolds and the Pumphreys lovingly bestow upon "the king of letters" exactly what he deserves.
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Review by Horn Book Review
An intriguing photograph of writers Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka dancing at a party at the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is the springboard for Reynolds's first (traditional) picture book. In 1991, people in Harlem gathered to celebrate the grand opening of the Langston Hughes Auditorium and the literary brilliance of its namesake. At the "fancy-foot, get-down, all-out bash," guests boogie to the beats and bops of music as renowned word-makers are pictured leaning in from the spines of books on the shelves, captivated by the dazzling whirlwind of excitement. The master poet, Langston Hughes, was called "the 'word-making king.'" He "could make the word America look like two friends making pinky promises to be cool, to be true" and turn words into laughter, "bringing joy to the little and the big." In his own evocative and kinetic style of word-making, Reynolds exudes reverence for Langston and the festive tempo of the occasion. The Pumphreys' vibrant illustrations, created with digitized handmade stamps, extend the theme of wordsmithing in creative interpretations of text, as in the double-page spread of Angelou and Baraka dancing with the letters of their first names forming the shape of their bodies. A jubilant tribute to the enduring legacy of one of the most prominent voices of the Harlem Renaissance and others whom he has inspired. Pauletta Brown BracyNovember/December 2023 p.105 (c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Reynolds and the Pumphrey brothers take readers on a dazzling journey through Langston Hughes' legacy. "There was a party for Langston at the library. / A jam in Harlem to celebrate the word-making man-- // Langston, the king of letters." And what a party! When Langston writes, words move, they collide, they big bang into the very atoms of connection. On shelves in the background, fellow Black writers and poets peer out from the spines of their books, looking on in delight as Langston's "word-children" Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka whirl with joy and inspiration, their own word-making mastery a credit to Langston's legacy. Inspired by a joyous photo of Angelou and Baraka snapped in 1991 at the opening of the Langston Hughes Auditorium at the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Reynolds sets a syncopated pace with his debut picture book, delivering not only a celebratory dance of a biography, but a primer in Hughes' own jazz poetry. Not missing a beat and laying down one all their own, the Pumphrey brothers' illustrations incorporate verses from Hughes' poems and other words he set into motion to create a thrumming visual landscape where meaning takes literal flight. This book demonstrates that Hughes' work is the epitome of what words can be. (This book was reviewed digitally.) A bar set stratospherically high and cleared with room to spare. (Informational picture book. 3-8) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.