Clackety clack clack clack...Can you hear the rhythm of the train? Langston Hughes did. Traveling to see his father in 1920, as he listened to the sounds of the train -- metal on metal, wheels on rails -- Hughes's imagination took flight. On that ride, he was inspired to write his first famous poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." This picture book tells the story of Langston Hughes's rise to accomplishing his dream of being a writer. With bold, striking illustrations by Leonard Jenkins, here is a book for any young person with a dream.
Burleigh (Into the Woods) imagines "the moment when Langston Hughes came to believe in himself as a writer," according to his author's note. "Sunday afternoon in Harlem, and 125th Street is alive, swarming with people. Everything I see speaks to me-to me!," begins the snappy first-person narrative. As Langston walks to a book signing party, the sound of his clicking heels reminds him of the clackety-clack of the train he was riding when he composed his famous "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." The narration offers a quite lengthy look into what Langston might have been thinking on that train trip, en route to visit his father in Mexico, reflecting (in page-long chunks) on his family and heritage. Burleigh posits that it was the sight of the Mississippi River through the window that inspired Hughes's poem. The use of flashback and the poem's symbolism (which requires a knowledge of history) may prove difficult for younger readers. Jenkins (Sunflower Island) does some of his best work in these sophisticated mixed-media illustrations. Soulful, realistic portraits of Langston close-up and in silhouette alternate with landscapes in the artist's signature powder blues, pinks and golds; his palette punctuates the dusky, darkly shadowed elements in each picture to a sometimes unsettling, always intriguing effect. Older readers will likely appreciate this meditation on what may have prompted Hughes's early poetry, and it may move others to reach out for their dreams. Ages 4-8. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.