I have been a Walter Dean Myers fan ever since I read him for the first time in 2007 during my Young Adult Literature graduate class. Since then I have read 8 of his novels, 2 of his pictures books, and a handful of his poetry. I have enjoyed, appreciated, and admired every piece of his that I have encountered. Though, because of either the intensity of the story or the complexity of his writing, I find that I only fully experience his books during my rereads of his books. Harlem, a poem picture book of his, was no exception. I originally ordered this book from the public library because I have a student who adores WDM and had asked me to get it for him. He read Harlem multiple times and said it was amazing; I knew I immediately wanted to read it and discuss it with him. When I first read Harlem, because of the lack of background knowledge I had about the history and culture of Harlem, I found myself not connecting with the book. I knew that on the reread, I wanted to change the outcome.
Title: Harlem: A Poem
Author: Walter Dean Myers
Illustrator: Christopher Myers
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: 1997
Genre/Format: Poem/Picture Book
Walter Dean Myers calls to life the deep, rich, and hope-filled history of Harlem, this crucible of American culture.
Christopher Myers' boldly assembled collage art resonates with feeling, and tells a tale all its own. Words and pictures together connect readers -of all ages - to the spirit of Harlem in its music, art, literature, and everyday life, and to how it has helped shape us as a people.
What I Think: After reading this book the first time, I knew I was going to have to tackle it differently than just reading a picture book. I wanted to make sense of it and I knew that I didn't have the background knowledge and I know that the power of all of the words had not sunk in yet. So, I typed up the poem in Google Drive and begun doing my very own close reading of the poem. I started with research of terms and names that I didn't know building my knowledge of the culture and history of Harlem. Through this build up of knowledge, I began to understand the beauty behind Myers's poem. The voice of this poem is one of heartbreak, but strength; proud of not only what he has become, but where he came from. This poem is a celebration of the history of Harlem and its citizens- a celebration of its religion, music, poets, authors, and everything that made/makes it a hub for the civil rights movement and African America culture.
While doing my research, I found an amazing website that I will definitely use when teaching this poetry book- Harlem: A Visual Interpretative Analysis- which takes an excerpt of the poem and an accompanied collage and takes the reader through an analysis of the excerpt and artwork. Fascinating!
This book would be a great one to use across many different subject areas- history, literature, and art.
Read Together: Grades 3 to 12
Read Alone: Grades 4 to 12
Read With: Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra and Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa by Andrea Davis Pinkney, The Complete Poems including Harlem by Langston Hughes, Harlem Summer by Walter Dean Myers, Nonfiction books about Harlem
Snatch of Text:
They brought a call
First heard in the villages of
Calls and songs and shouts
Heavy hearted tambourine rhythms
Loosed in the hard city
Like a scream torn from the throat
Of an ancient clarinet
A new sound, raucous and sassy
Cascading over the asphalt villageBreaking against the black sky over
Riffing past resolution
Mentor Text for: Imagery, Rhythm, Mood, Voice, Metaphor, Making Connections
Writing Prompts: Do research about your ancestors and your heritage. Through this research, find people, places, literature, art, musicians, etc. that helped shape who you or your family are. Use this research to contruct a poem about your heritage. Find a piece of artwork to accompany your poem.
Topics Covered: Harlem, Religion, Music, Slavery, Boxing, Poets, Civil Rights
I *heart* It:
(After my reread and research)