Earlier this week, I learned of efforts to preserve Langston Hughes’ Harlem brownstone. The group spearheading the efforts, I, Too Arts Collective, @ITooArts, is a “nonprofit organization committed to nurturing voices from underrepresented communities in the creative arts”. According to its statement of purpose on generosity.com, the group’s “first major project is to provide a space for emerging and established artists in Harlem to create, connect, and showcase work”. Its “goal is to lease and renovate the brownstone where Langston Hughes lived in Harlem as a way to not only preserve his legacy but to build on it and impact young poets and artists.” You can find out more and donate at generosity.com.
When I came across the featured collection of poetry by Langston Hughes, newly illustrated by Ashley Bryan, I knew this was the Perfect Picture Book to showcase I, Too Arts Collective’s campaign and celebrate summer on the water.
Title: Sail Away
Written By: Langston Hughes
Illustrated By: Ashley Bryan
Publisher/date: Atheneum Books for Young Children/2015
Suitable for Ages: 4-8 (and beyond)
Themes/Topics: poetry, sea, sailing, travel, adventure, non-fiction
Big Boy came
Carrying a mermaid
On his shoulders
And the mermaid
Had her tail
Beneath his arm.
Being a fisher boy,
He’d found a fish
Brief Synopsis: This is a collection of 15 poems about water and the sea penned by Langston Hughes and newly illustrated by Ashley Bryan.
Links to Resources:
- Use paper collage techniques to draw a picture;
- Visit the sea, a river, lake or pond and describe what you see. What was it like?
Why I Like this Book:
As other reviewers have noted, Langston Hughes (1902-1967), a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, is most remembered for his writings about racial and national identity. This collection of poetry, while containing one that is specific to the African-American experience (see, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, the last poem in the collection), shows another side of Hughes. It is a celebration of seafaring, mermaids, rivers, fish, bridges – really all things nautical. These poems on the whole are joyful, especially as the very talented artist Ashley Bryan has illustrated them using bright paper collages. At times they are whimsical, almost childlike, as in the poem entitled simply “F”, about a fish “with a greedy eye/Who darted toward/A big green fly.” But the fly was simply “bait on a hook!/So the fisherman took/The fish home to cook.”
A Note about Craft:
The genesis of this book was not Langston Hughes, who died long before publication. Rather, the illustrator, Ashley Bryan, is the protagonist here. As stated on the front flap, Mr. Bryan is “one of Langston Hughes’s greatest admirers.” His illustrations truly bring this poetry to life.
In an illustrator’s note, Mr. Bryan states that the “scissors shown on the endpapers are the scissors that my mother used in sewing and embroidery and that I, in turn, used in cutting the colored papers for all the collage compositions in this book.” An author in his own right, Mr. Bryan created this artwork at the ripe young age of 91, meaning the scissors most likely date to the late 19th or early 20th century. Truly an inspiration for young and old!
If You Liked this Book:
Check out Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph, reviewed here.
One of Ashley Bryan’s many other books for children, found here.