The Negro Speaks of Rivers

Book review by
Patricia Tauzer, Common Sense Media
The Negro Speaks of Rivers Book Poster Image
Words and watercolors sing in a voice as deep as the river.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

A beautiful presentation of one of Langston Hughes' most moving poems.

Positive Messages

The history, and soul, of African-American culture is as ancient and deep moving as the rivers. 

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this presentation of Langston Hughes' famous poem received the 2010 Coretta Scott King Honor for illustrations. 

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What's the story?

This short poem by Langston Hughes was considered to be the "song of the Harlem Renaissance." Using the river as its primary symbol, it captures the history of African-American people from ancient times to today, and celebrates their courage and strength. Illustrator E.B. Lewis has created watercolors that bring the lines of the poem to life and make them accessible, and even more meaningful, to readers of all ages.

Is it any good?

This is a beautiful illustration of Hughes' classic poem, and one that will help all readers, but especially kids, understand the words that Langston Hughes wrote. The poem is moving, both real and spiritual, and the watercolors are breathtaking. The illustrator's note on the final page explains his own connection to the poem and the paintings, and adds a further element of meaning to the book. And, to show the depth of his connection, he has depicted himself as the person who is praying while being embraced by the river.

Sensitive, moving watercolors bring amazing depth and meaning to the lines of the poem that are printed against the various river scenes. Spanning the stretch of time from before the pyramids to the modern day, some paintings are dark, others filled with light, but all with the delicate kind of strength that Langston Hughes expressed in his words.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what the poem means. Why is the river like the ancient history of the African-American culture? What are all the different places the river has flowed? What does the poem mean when it says "My soul has grown deep like the rivers?"

  • Why are watercolors the perfect art medium for illustrating this poem? Look at each painting and talk about the place, the people, and the play of light and dark in the scene. What is that saying to you?

  • Would you have illustrated this poem differently? What kinds of things do you think of as you read the lines?

Book details

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