Langston Hughes’ 1923 poem is brought to life with images by illustrator Charles R. Smith in this 2010 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award-winning book. The book brings together the 33 words of Hughes’ beautiful ode to beauty and sepia-toned photographs of African-Americans of all ages. The photos are close-up, happy, expressive faces against a black background, with additional photos of faces running down the margins of the pages; these are lighter sepia so as not to distract from the main photos and words on the page. The faces appear to emerge from the shadows, and Smith often juxtaposes young and old together, creating a perfect harmony on each spread. The font is large and bold, alternating white and sepia. The endpapers offer a collage of faces in the overexposed, faded sepia we see on the page margins inside.
This is an excellent story time choice for young audiences. The faces will appeal to babies, toddlers and preschoolers alike, and at 33 words, the reader can take his or her time, allowing listeners to enjoy the faces and allow the words to sink in. This would make an excellent Black History Month reading, but can be a reading done at any time. It would be a good addition to a multicultural story time in diverse neighborhoods, which could include fingerplays and songs from other cultures. Participants can be invited to contribute their own nursery rhymes, songs and fingerplays.