Black boys have bones and blood / And feelings
Black boys have minds that thrive with ideas / Like bees around a hive / Black boys are alive with wonder and possibility / With hopes and dreams
This is a gorgeous collection of tanka poetry inspired by the brilliance of black boys, the poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens, the poetry collection Twenty-Six Ways of Looking at a Black Man by Raymond R. Patterson and Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s essay collection Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man.
Medina celebrates black boyhood through thirteen thoughtful & resonant poems. Readers are also treated to artwork from thirteen of children’s literature’s top black illustrators. Many of the poems in this collection were originally paired with photographs of residents of Anacostia, Washington D.C., a historically black neighborhood originally home to Nacotchtank Native peoples.
Touching on topics of family, religion, confidence, community, poverty, worry and pride, each poem and illustration explore various aspects of black boy childhoods. Black boys grow up with the weight of the world on their shoulders (One-Way Ticket, in this collection, says “Every breath I take is taxed / The kind of life where / I’ll have to take out a loan / To pay back them other loans”). Society looks down on black boys, expects the least from them and fears them. Black boys often face pressure from within their own communities too; pressure to provide, to perform toxic masculinity, homophobia and to maintain the status-quo.
This is why collections like Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy are so important. They show black boys that’s it’s okay to be multifaceted, emotional, beautiful, smart and insecure. These poems are written by a black man & illustrated by black women and men in order to celebrate black boys. Readers will see black boys smiling, black boys in Church, sitting quietly, worried and playful. In one playful poem, a black boy runs & sstttretttcchhhesss to catch the bus to school (Athlete’s Broke Bus Blues, “Know how many times / I done missed this broke down-bus”) and another black boy wears a glowing yellow crown as the poem (Brothers Gonna Work It Out) reads “Raise young bloods proper / To be the kings that they are / Crowned glory of our future.” I love the African American Vernacular English used in these poems too! Feels familiar.
And the art!! Robert Liu-Trujillo, for One-Way Ticket, uses watercolor to show us a black boy, face full of worry and his mind on his family, holding a brown bag of groceries as he walks home. Floyd Cooper’s oil painting in Anacostia Angel, shows us a windswept, loving, black family that’s proud of their growing little “brown angel.” What I love about collections like this is that we get a sample of so many different art styles and mediums. Ekua Holmes builds her collage layer by layer. Skip Hill’s illustration is done with mostly ballpoint pen. Cozbi A. Cabrera paints a richly dark-skinned little black boy cheezin’ in front of his dark-skinned mother, feeling proud in his church suit (that his granny made him). Readers are also treated to lengthy back-matter which introduces & celebrates the author and illustrators.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy is one of my favorite books of the year. It’s honest and beautiful and very, very necessary!! Check out this beautiful book and add it to your collection.
Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Black Boy Joy, Poetry, Family, Relationships, Confidence, Community, Love, Self-Affirmation, Religion, Poverty, Pride, Happiness
Book Info: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy by Tony Medina/Illustrated by Various Artists, 2018 Penny Candy Books, ISBN: 9780998799940