Harlem: A Poem

Book review by
Ann Marie Sammataro, Common Sense Media
Harlem: A Poem Book Poster Image
This glittering work reaches across boundaries.

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age 2+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.


A poignant illustration of a solemn child leaning on a lamppost accompanies a verse discussing endless depths of pain.

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that though it's a picture book, this is clearly aimed at older readers. A class of first-graders was confused by the complexity of the book's poetry and its many references to unfamiliar figures. In fact, some references may be confusing for anyone not familiar with African-American leaders and artists, yet it can still provide a good stepping-off point for older classes studying black history.

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Adult Written byCoby B. January 29, 2018

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What's the story?

Harlem was a promise ... Myers's vivid poem creates a kaleidoscopic journey through Harlem's past and present. Staccato verses and brilliant collages stir the senses, calling forth a tumultuous burst of sights, sounds, and images. Famous names and events fill the verses, raising questions for readers unfamiliar with black history. But this glittering work reaches across racial and social boundaries.


Is it any good?

This remarkable work shimmers with emotions: alternately spiritual, humorous, jazzy, and, at times, full of the blues. They shine with a reverence for what Harlem promised and produced, tempered with keen observations of its disappointments. The uptown, upbeat, ragtime tempo of this poem makes for a lively read-aloud, even for older readers. Add to this the scope of the poem's content and it's a treasure -- both for those who have lived the Harlem experience and those who are curious about it.

Christopher Myers's artwork enhances his father's poem. Each illustration is a fascinating collage of tiny pieces of papers, drawings, and photographs, divided and reassembled to create a new whole. Martin Luther King Jr., the Apollo Theater, girls skipping rope -- all come to life in pages filled to the edges with color and texture. Rhythm and image, color and texture, all combine to create Harlem's celebration song.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Harlem past and present. Why is this neighborhood such an important part of America's history? What does its future hold?

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