"At just thirty-three words total, [this] poem is a study in simplicity," writes Smith (Rimshots; If); in its visual simplicity, his picture-book presentation is a tour de force. Introducing the poem two or three words at a time, Smith pairs each phrase with a portrait of one or more African-Americans; printed in sepia, the faces of his subjects materialize on black pages. "The night," reads the opening spread, across from an image of a man's face, his eyes shut; "is beautiful," continues the next spread, showing the same face, now with eyes open and a wide smile. The text, sized big to balance the portraits, shows up in hues that range from white to tan to brown-black, reflecting Smith's reading that "the words celebrate black people of differing shades and ages." An inventive design adds a short, shadowed row or column of small portraits to the edge of many spreads; these quietly reinforce the concept of "my people." Whether of babies, children or adults, Smith's faces emerge into the light, displaying the best that humanity has to offer--intelligence, wisdom, curiosity, love and joy. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)[Page 58]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
K Up--Smith's knack for pairing poetry and photography is well documented in books such as Hoop Queens (Candlewick, 2003) and Rudyard Kipling's If (S & S, 2006). Here, his artful images engage in a lyrical and lively dance with Langston Hughes's brief ode to black beauty. Dramatic sepia portraits of African Americans--ranging from a cherubic, chubby-cheeked toddler to a graying elder whose face is etched with lines-are bathed in shadows, which melt into black backgrounds. The 33 words are printed in an elegant font in varying sizes as emphasis dictates. In order to maximize the effect of the page turn and allow time for meaning to be absorbed, the short phrases and their respective visual narratives often spill over more than a spread. The conclusion offers a montage of faces created with varying exposures, a decision that provides a light-filled aura and the irregularities that suggest historical prints. A note from Smith describes his approach to the 1923 poem. This celebration of the particular and universal will draw a wide audience: storytime participants; students of poetry, photography, and cultural studies; seniors; families. A timely and timeless offering.--Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library[Page 92]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.