The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem's Greatest Bookstore

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem's Greatest Bookstore Book Poster Image
Lively tale of store that aided civil rights struggle.

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

Educational Value

Teaches readers about the National Memorial African Bookstore and its importance in the community. It also establishes the bookstore and its owner, Lewis Henri Michaux, as important figures in America's civil rights movement. 

Positive Messages

Illustrates the significance of bookstores as gathering places to share ideas. It also demonstrates the importance of knowledge-gathering as a vehicle for social change.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lewis Henri Michaux, the owner of the bookstore, is a strong, positive model of entrepreneurship and social activism. The story is told by Michaux's young son and includes adults such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, who, much like their cultural significance, are described as being larger than life.

Violence & Scariness

Friends tell the story of the assassination of Malcolm X without describing any bloodshed.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know The Book Itch: Freedom, Trut, and Harlem's Greatest Bookstore, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, offers a child's-eye view of a historic business, opened by the author's great-uncle in the 1930s, that played a key role in the civil rights movement. The picture book, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, won a 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. It highlights agents of social change such as Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X and discusses the assassination of Malcolm X and the unjust treatment of African-Americans. Parents should be prepared to talk about racial discrimination, the legacy of the civil rights movement, and the assassinations of people in the movement.

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What's the story?

Lewis Henri Michaux has a book itch. He wants to help people -- especially African-American people -- educate themselves so they can fully understand their civil rights. He believes that reading and getting together to discuss ideas is the way to do it. So, he works, saves, and opens the National Memorial African Bookstore. This bookstore becomes the gathering place for people from all over the world who are committed to the struggle for civil rights. Michaux's bookstore, as seen through the eyes of his young son, brims with big ideas and historic moments.

Is it any good?

Soaring and motivational, this book brings to life the little Harlem bookstore that became a gathering place, a house of ideas, and an agent in the civil rights movement. Author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson does a wonderful job spotlighting an important but lesser known story for children. Combining the punchy and rhythmic catchphrases of bookstore owner Lewis Henri Michaux with the observational commentary of his son Nelson makes the story come alive.

Parents and kids will love the lively dialogue and R. Gregory Christie's illustrations as well as the appearances of historical and cultural figures, including Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. The story is a perfect springboard to discuss the kinds of activities people who were part of the civil rights movement were involved in.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the importance of family history. What family stories are important to pass down to the next generation in your family?

  • Why it is important to learn about American and African-American history by looking beyond the famous people? Does it help to know about ordinary, less well-known people's contributions? Why?

  • Lewis Henri Michaux started a bookstore to help support civil rights efforts. How can you use the things you're good at to help a cause that you're passionate about?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of the struggle for civil rights and social justce

Themes & Topics

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