Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood Book Poster Image
Dynamic, enthralling kid's-eye-view of 1970s Harlem.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

The book gives a glimpse into the life of a kid in Harlem during the 1970's, including the games they play, the types of issues the neighborhood faces, and the universal joys of childhood.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of community, friendship, and family. The community shows its unity in caring for the children of the neighborhood regardless of their blood relations. The friendship of Blinky, TJ, and WT is consistently shown as a strength and grounding point in challenging situations.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The thee children, WT, Blinky, and TJ, display a maturity beyond their years collectively and individually when they must deal with situations that require bravery. For example, TJ shows incredible kindness and understanding while helping a neighbor who seems afraid to go outside. He quietly observes her odd behavior but treats her with respect and care. When TJ appears to hurt himself, both Blinky and WT step in immediately help him, making sure he's feels OK and scolding him a bit about being more careful around cars and playing with his ball near the street.

Violence

A boy slaps and hits his brother to try to drag him out of a drug haze. A boy cuts his foot on broken glass after the glass falls from a roof and hits another child in the head; both children recover. Description of a police chase that ends in the fatal police shooting of a man.

Sex

A young boy discusses the fact that his parents speak frankly to him about sex and where babies come from. One kid has a crush on another, and a kid has a crush on a pretty adult neighbor. 

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Discussion of older teens using drugs, the look they get when high, and the pain of one child dealing with a sibling's addiction. An adult woman shows signs of alcoholism and mental illness. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Little Man, Little Man: a Story of Childhood, the only children's book written by acclaimed novelist, essayist and social critic James Baldwin, was originally published in 1976 and re-released in 2018. It takes a look at growing up black in '70s Harlem and the dynamics of the neighborhood through a child's eyes. There are instances of teen drug use, adult addiction and mental illness, as well as positive role models of protective neighbors, present parents and multi-aged friendship. 

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What's the story?

In LITTLE MAN, LITTLE MAN: A STORY OF CHILDHOOD, 4-year-old TJ, with his friends 7-year-old WT and 8-year-old Blinky, explore their neighborhood and life in 1970s Harlem. There are things that make him sad and wonder, like the neighborhood teens who sit on a stoop with vacant stares after putting needles in their arms and why Mrs. Beanpole never leaves her house. There are other things that make him happy, like knowing how much his parents love him and playing games with his friends. There is so much in the world to explore -- how TJ, WT, and Blinky will navigate it is the adventure.

Is it any good?

Magical, enthralling, and at times tragic, James Baldwin's only children's book is a fantastic window into '70s Harlem, as seen through a child's eyes. The most important thing to take away from the book, which Baldwin shows so well, is the balance between the harsh realities of life and the simple magic of childhood. And with the whimsical watercolor illustrations of French illustrator Yoran Cazac, the book never falls into heavy despair but seeks to present life as it is, a series of events that make up a tapestry. Parents will love exposing kids to James Baldwin's work, and kids will love seeing a kid just like them, no matter differences in time, location, or even race.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the neighborhood in Little Man, Little Man. What's familiar about it? What's different from your neighborhood?

  • What do you think of the friendships in the book between people of different ages? Do you have friends who are older or younger than you? What do you learn from each other?

  • How is a neighborhood as extended family? TJ has neighbors who look out for him and the other kids even though they're not related. Is your neighborhood like that? If not, what places outside of your family do you find a sense of community and care? School? You sports team? Why is this important?

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