Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee!

Take a Picture of Me,James VanDerZee Cover

Image Credit: Lee & Low Books Inc., Andrea J. Loney/Keith Mallett

I’m so last minute this year, y’all! But bear with me…It’s still Black History Month and I got a post for you… ūüėÄ

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Another year, another Black History Month, another influential black soul to celebrate. I’m currently basking in the glory of the smash hit film Black Panther. All the black excellence in that film reminded me of another Black Creative who made it his life’s work to represent black excellence through photography.

James VanDerZee made black people look

Glamorous. Regal. Distinguished

at a time when black photography was very static. VanDerZee made it his business to show Black People Shining.

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! is one of my favorite non-fiction picture books of 2017. In it, we follow young VanDerZee from boyhood to his elderly years. Born into a middle class black family in Lenox, Massachussetts, he was frustrated as a child by his inability to capture fine details and accuracy when drawing people. When he discovered photography, he became fascinated and worked diligently to get his own camera (becoming only the second person in his town to have one)! VanDerZee, always a people person, had natural talent and worked to make his subjects feel comfortable; he wanted to make people look AND feel good while in his studio. At age 18, VanDerZee moved to bustling and vibrant Black Harlem, where he soared as a young artist. He’d later start his own studio where he’d photograph middle class Black Harlem as well as dignitaries, celebrities and athletes. VanDerZee is famous for his high level of skill in retouching (essentially early Photoshop) and photomontage.

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The Honest Truth

TheHonestTruth

Image Credit: Scholastic Press, Dan Gemeinhart

“Here’s what I don’t get: why anyone would try to stop me. All I wanted to do was die. That’s the truth.”

This is a tough book.

Mark, a twelve year old boy,¬†takes his trusty dog Beau on the last adventure of his lifetime and on the way, discovers his inner strength. He’s¬†been battling cancer for years¬†and is emotionally and physically worn out.¬†He finally decides that he’s had enough and runs away to climb Mt. Rainier to die.

The story is told from two perspectives; he tells his story in first person and then the story regularly switches to third person to tell the reader about the person who¬†holds Mark’s biggest secret, his best friend Jess. The Honest Truth is as much about his journey as it is about her struggles, anguish and doubt. Ultimately though, we follow Mark’s emotions most closely, as we watch him switch between sadness, regret, determination, bitterness, love and relief.

This story is powerful; Gemeinhart really explores what it means to be human, to be alive, to look death in the eye and live fully. The relationship between Mark and Jess is amazing but the relationship between Mark and his dog Beau is also extremely remarkable; that little dog loves him to the end of the world! If you’re looking for a great read about the strength of the human spirit, try this one. You’ll be moved. That’s the honest truth.

P.S. Grab some tissues…„Ö† „Ö†

P.S.S. In celebration of a year since the release of his book, Dan Gemeinhart gave us Beau’s voice in a special “lost” chapter. Click here to enjoy! ‚̧

 

Recommended for: Ages 12 and up
Great for: Emotions, Inner Strength, Friendship, Determination, Growing Up, Cancer, Dogs, Love, Family, Power of Photography, Hope, Grab the Tissues
Book Info: The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart, 2015 Scholastic Press (Scholastic Inc.), ISBN: 9780545665735