Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy Book Poster Image
Moving poems, dazzling art show the beauty of black boys.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

In addition to presenting positive images of black boys and black families, this text teaches the tanka form in poetry and makes reference to several other literary works: Wallace Stevens' poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" from 1954; Raymond Patterson's collection and its title poem "Twenty-Six Ways of Looking at a Black Man" from 1969; and Henry Louis Gates' collection of essays and interviews, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man from 1997.

Positive Messages

Black boys are human, multifaceted, and beautiful.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Poems and illustrations depict black boys and young men -- and their families and community mentors -- going about their lives. They flirt, run for the bus, worry about money, sit on the stoop, go to church, build robots in the classroom lab, and more.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy, by Tony Medina (I Am Alfonso Jones) pairs Medina's poems with illustrations by 13 artists, including recent Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Award recipients. Poems and illustrations depict black boys and young men -- and their families and community mentors -- going about their lives. They flirt, run for the bus, worry about money, sit on the stoop, go to church, build robots in the classroom lab, and more. The words and images send the messages that black boys are human, multifaceted, and beautiful. In addition to presenting positive images of black boys and black families, this text teaches the tanka form in poetry and makes reference to several other literary works: Wallace Stevens' poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" from 1954; Raymond Patterson's collection and its title poem "Twenty-Six Ways of Looking at a Black Man" from 1969; and Henry Louis Gates' collection of essays and interviews, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man from 1997.

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What's the story?

THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT A BLACK BOY consists of 13 tankas (31-syllable poems) and accompanying illustrations depicting black boys and young men living their lives at school, church, and in their families and communities. 

Is it any good?

This beautiful book can boost readers' pride and self-esteem. The words and images in Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy by Tony Medina depict black boys having a diversity of experiences and states of being. Sometimes the subjects of the poems and illustrations are regal or mystical; other times they are down-to-earth or downtrodden. In all cases, their humanity is evident. The artwork shows a great deal of variety in styles: soft pastels, expressionistic pieces with heavy strokes, surrealistic images, and graphic pieces. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the different things black boys are shown doing and feeling in Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy, and how everyone is special. What makes your life special? 

  • How does the art help you understand the ideas and feelings in the poems?

  • Try telling a story in just a few words.

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love picture books and stories that boost self-esteem

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