Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Brown Angels – African American Literature

Myers, Walter Dean. 1993. Brown Angels: an album of pictures and verse. USA: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-022917-9

Plot Summary
A collection of poems written for or inspired by a collection of old photographs. The photos are all of black children posed professionally or just out at play and the accompanying poems match accordingly.

Critical Analysis
As expected, Myers’ poetry is moving and insightful. The poems occasionally use grammatical phrasing reflective of the African American culture like “He walk like his grandpa” or “Say you just smiling cause you don’t have nothing else to do.” Some poems could be paired with photographs of any children, dark, light, or other. Others specifically describe African American children as brown, dark, black, tan, and coffee and recognize the struggle and pride of those African Americans who have gone before.

The photographs in the book are of African American children of long ago. They are happy kids, posing for professional pictures though some seem to be more spontaneous in nature. As the author says in his preface, the children appear to be those of hard working people who took pride in their children and looking their “Sunday best.” Overall, this is a wonderful book celebrating our love of children and the hope of their future.

Professional Reviews
From Publishers Weekly
Myers ( Scorpions ; Now Is Your Time! ) gathers a stirring collection of turn-of-the-century photographs of black children and sets them to poetry, his verse alternating between the music of 19th-century hymns and that of plain talk. The arresting portrait of a truly angelic-looking child on the book's cover, for example, is accompanied by "Prayer": "Shout my name to the angels / Sing my song to the skies / Anoint my ears with wisdom / Let beauty fill my eyes." A series of pictures of smiling children illustrates a poem that mocks adults who are "so tizzy-busy / They don't remember / How good a grin feels / Ain't that something / How people forget that?" Myers's tone is sometimes sentimental--especially in the depiction of "sweet" or "precious" children, like the "pretty little tan girl / She knows all the tricks"--and sometimes didactic; he's best in his lightest moments. The design of the book, with its warm sepia-toned photographs and Victorian decorations, handsomely showcases the haunting and hopeful faces of the children, whose names have been lost along with those of the men and women who photographed them. All ages.  Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal
Grade 2 Up-A unique celebration of the continuum of human life and of childhood in all its robustness, fragility, and evanescent beauty. Motivated by a desire to share his pleasure in the old photographs of African-American children that he collects, Myers has created an exquisite album. The 42 superbly reproduced, black-and-white and sepia prints radiate intensely with the personalities of their subjects. The author's 11 original poems are in various forms and range from humorous to elegiac. The language is simple and reads aloud well. Although the pictures will not show up well enough at a distance for story programs, Brown Angels will have innumerable uses in the classroom, from family history projects to poetry writing. This is a book that children may not pick up on their own because of its old-fashioned appearance, but once they have discovered it, they will pore over the images and want to hear the verses again and again. The fact that the children are black adds poignancy, but the feelings that animate their faces are universal.  Sue Norris, Rye Free Reading Room, NY

This book would be an excellent tool in a poetry unit as well as a lesson in using photographs as an inspiration for writing. Also, since the voice in Love that Dog uses Walter Dean Myers as an inspiration in his own poetry, pairing this book with Sharon Creech’s book would be a great connection.

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