A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Kids learn about Great Migration, when 7 million African Americans migrated to the North; rural Southern life vs. urban Northern. Excerpts of poems by Langston Hughes, bits of his biography. Other African American writers: Paul Laurence Dunbar, Arna Bontemps, Gwendolyn Brooks, Countee Cullen, W.E.B. Du Bois, Jessie Fauset. Chicago Black Renaissance. Harlem Renaissance. Chicago in 1946, its black neighborhood Bronzeville. Historical significance of George Cleveland Hall branch of library, first branch of Chicago Public Library to have African American branch manager, Vivien G. Harsh, had important lecture series with prominent African American writers. Information about books, libraries: nonfiction, anthology, call numbers. Period details: WWII ended 1945; segregated train cars.
Loss is hard but good things happen to help us adjust. People we've lost are like guardian angels, looking down and guiding us. Literature helps provides meaning to our lives. Poetry is "a way of putting all the things you feel inside on the outside." Libraries contribute significantly to education and a community's cultural life.
Positive Role Models
Langston is a sensitive boy able to connect with poetry, express pain he feels after loss of his mom. He's resilient, determined, pursuing love of poetry and going to the library even when it's difficult. His mom and neighbor love literature. Librarians, other caring adults help him. He learns to stand up for himself. Langston Hughes, other prominent African American writers and cultural figures mentioned are also strong role models.
Violence & Scariness
Boy bullies and hits Langston, tears up his book.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Finding Langston was named a 2019 Coretta Scott King (Author) Honor Book. It's a novel by Lesa Cline-Ransome, who's well known for her picture books, many of them biographies of African American subjects, such as Before She Was Harriet and Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams. Here, she skillfully makes the Great Migration come alive through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy who's lost his mom and moved with his dad from the sleepy South to big, bustling 1946 Chicago. The story's sweetly handled. There's some bullying from boys in his class, who throw a few punches. Excerpts from poems by the boy's namesake, Langston Hughes, resonate with his experience and are woven liberally into the text, as are references to other writers and prominent cultural figures from the Chicago Black Renaissance. There's one sexual reference, when Langston remembers his parents at night in Alabama: "Sometimes I could even hear kissing and other things too."
Is It Any Good?
This emotionally rich story of a young boy adjusting to the loss of his mom works as a lovely human story, as well as an introduction to the Great Migration and the poetry of Langston Hughes. Finding Langston weaves in historical information meaningfully but gently. Readers can think about what it might be like to move from a rural community with outhouses to stacked urban apartments with indoor plumbing. And Cline-Ransome makes it easy to enter the poem excerpts by tying them so closely to the boy's own experience. There's lots of information about the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago in 1946, and much of the story takes place in the historically significant George Cleveland Hall branch of the Chicago library, which hosted an important lecture series featuring black writers of the era.
But the book is never overwhelmed by the historical content and works beautifully on its own as a warm, touching story. Hearts will go out to this appealing young narrator as he tells his story, and eyes may tear up as he forges new human connections and begins to heal. Cover art by Cline-Ransome's husband, James Ransome, tops the treat.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.