HARLEM: Found Ways & Harlem Children's Books

HARLEM: Found Ways & Harlem Children’s Books

I brought my daughters and one of their friends to see an art exhibit on Harlem.

HARLEM: Found Ways Cooper Gallery in Harvard Square

We were fortunate to get a private tour by Vera Ingrid Grant, Director of the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art at the Hutchins Center in Harvard Square, on her show, HARLEM: Found Ways, a collection of art reflecting Harlem today.

What really caught my eye was the unusual use way of displaying art in this exhibit.

Pieces were hung at different levels inviting the viewer to get down low to see details. Framed photographs were leaned at precarious angles as if it might fall down — it won’t, it’s actually deliberate and well secured.

Vera Ingrid Grant, Director of the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art

Even the exit sign was put to good use; the red light repeating the red blocks of color in a photograph that was hung slightly askew.Harlem Art Exhibit

This is gallery is of Harvard University and it’s FREE and open to the public. The show ends July 15, 2017. If you are in Harvard Square, do stop by!

Harlem: Found Art

Children’s Books Reflecting African Americans from Harlem

Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold

Faith Roinggold was born, raised, and still lives in Harlem, and her iconic picture book, Tar Beach, reflects her experience growing up with a rooftop as her beach. This book is now 25 years old! [picture book, ages 4 and up]

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Francis Vallejo

Some of the 57 musicians featured in the photograph lived in Harlem including:

Duke Ellington– composer, pianist and bandleader; lived on Riverside Drive and at 555 Edgecombe.

Fats Waller – pianist, born at 107 West 134th Street

Mary Lou Williams – pianist; lived at 63 Hamilton Terrace

Count Basie – bandleader and pianist; lived at 555 Edgecombe Avenue

It was quite a feat to pull off the Esquire American Jazz photo, just like it is a feat to pull off this free verse poetry picture book that so perfectly captures the excitement, chaos, and personalities of that momentous day. [poetry picture book, ages 8 and up]

Mister and Lady Day: Billie Holiday and the Dog Who Loved Her by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton

Billie Holiday – singer; lived with her mother at 108 West 139th Street

Billie Holiday was one the greatest jazz singers of all time. She didn’t have a huge voice, but one that was marked with sorrow and heartfelt emotion. Her childhood was difficult and her adult life, tumultuous. One positive constant in her life, though, was her dogs. This picture book focuses on Lady Day’s relationship with her dogs, particularly her favorite one, Mister, a Boxer. Mister’s devotion to Billie and her deep affection for him as well creates a loving lens in which to view Lady Day’s life. [picture book, ages 6 and up]

Jazz Age Josephine: Dancer, singer–who’s that, who? Why, that’s MISS Josephine Baker, to you! by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

Jazz Age Josephine tells her story in rollicking rhyme from her humble beginnings to her rise to fame in Europe. Her first break was in New York City  at just 15 year sold where she performed in Blackface, an insult to her race. At just 19 years old, Josephine moved to Paris where she became wildly popular for both her singing and dancing talents. She also devoted much of her life to fighting racism. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson

This is an interesting advanced picture book in chapters. It’s perfect for kids who want a more in depth look at Josephine Baker’s life. Told in free verse with exuberant illustrations by Caldecott honored illustrator Christian Robinson, this book probably works best read in stages due to the length. [picture book in chapters, ages 8 and up]

Harlem’s Little Blackbird by Renee Watson, illustrated by Christian Robinson

The daughter of former slaves, Florence Mills grew up in a tiny house in Washington D.C. Though she won many medals for her singing and dancing abilities, her opportunities were limited because of the color of her skin. Her family moved to New York City where she and her sisters performed as the Mills Sisters trio in venues that included Harlem’s Lincoln Theatre. The Harlem Renaissance brought jazz music to the forefront, and Florence’s singing and dancing roles introduced jazz to white audiences. Eventually, Florence became an international star and she used her fame to fight for equal rights.

Perhaps it’s because no recordings or film of her performances exist that most of us have never heard of Florence Mills but this charming picture book brings her accomplishments to life. As one of the first African American women to make it on Broadway, Florence Mill’s story is a beacon of inspiration of how the performing arts can change how people think. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

These two book descriptions are from Carole Boston Weatherford’s #BlackHistoryMonth:

Lena Horne, singer and actress; lived at 555 Edgecombe Avenue.

Lena Horne was both an legendary actress and activist, born into a well educated and high achieving family. During the Great Depression, Lena started her career at the Cotton Club as a dancer in the chorus line. Her career catapulted from there, to Broadway, headlining an all-white band, to Hollywood. During WWII, her activist side emerged in full force, which resulted in being blacklisted during McCarthy’s Red Scare. Still, Lena persisted. With a new husband, she was able to further her career to become an international star, and use her fame in the fight for civil rights. [picture book, ages 4 and up]

Gordon Parks’ white teacher told her all-black class, “You’ll all wind up porters and waiters.” Gordon did end up working as a porter and waiter but he also spent $7.5o on a used camera and taught himself to use it. He vows to bare racism with his lens. His most enduring subject is Ella Watson, a cleaning lady in the building where Parks works. Facing racism himself, Gordon Parks is an inspiration of how one man and a camera can take a powerful stand against racism with an unflinching eye, and the will to overcome obstacles. This is a picture book that kids of all ages will benefit from. Use it with Gordon Parks photos for a Civil Rights Movement unit using books and Civil Rights Movement art. [picture book biography, ages 4 and up]

Last year, my tribute to Black History Month was about Gordon Parks and this picture book.

A Nation’s Hope: the Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Joe Louis – boxer; lived at 555 Edgecombe Avenue

“Hundreds surrounding Joe and his wife

down a Harlem sidewalk …

The streets of Harlem once gain dancing

for their hero

But all of America dancing this time”

Joe Louis versus Max Schmeling, Wednesday, June 22, 1938 at Yankee Stadium. A black man against a German. Joe faces on one side, Jim Crow laws, and the other, Nazi hate. Joe Lewis’s fight with Max Schmeling actually happens twice, with the entire world looking on, and drawing conclusions that reach beyond just a boxing match of heavy weight champions. Joe Lewis is considered to be one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, with 26 title defenses. [picture book biography, ages 6 and up]

X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon

Malcolm X’s coming of age story is told by his daughter in this young adult book, with help from Kekla Magoon. He spent his formative years in Roxbury, outside of Boston, which is near me, but moved to Harlem as an adult. [young adult, ages 14 and up]

 To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

HARLEM: Found Ways & Harlem Children's Books

I am an Amazon affiliate which means if you buy anything through my blog, I get a very small kickback at no cost to you. I use this money to pay for postage and handling for my giveaways.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Traci Sorell

    Here’s another picture book for your list. The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illus.
    by G. Gregory Christie (Lerner/Carolrhoda Books, 2015)

  2. What great recommendations of books related to Harlem! Would not have thought to pick up on this theme! Great idea.
    Patricia Tilton recently posted…Hand Over Hand by Alma FullertonMy Profile

  3. We’ve read about half of these. Now to find the other half.
    maryanne recently posted…Why Making Stop Motion Films Is The Ultimate STEAM Project For KidsMy Profile

  4. Those sound like great books! I’ll try to find them! 🙂
    Erik Weibel recently posted…Review! The Fallen Star by Tracey HechtMy Profile

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge