Michele Landsberg
February 28, 1992 AT 05:00 AM EST

Children of Promise: African-American Literature and Art For Young People

Current Status
In Season
Charles Sullivan
Nonfiction, Kids and Family

We gave it a B+

Children of Promise, a handsomely produced anthology draws on two centuries of song, poetry, art, photography, and documentary to illuminate the African-American experience. A slave auction handbill is cleverly juxtaposed with Thomas Jefferson’s letter in praise of the mathematical skill and ”moral eminence” of Benjamin Banneker, an African-American who helped design Washington, D.C. A searing poem by Langston Hughes gives the lie (or the inner truth) to a 19th-century photograph of a grinning minstrel: A tender oil painting of an old African-American man teaching a child to play the banjo is resonantly paired with verses from the folk song, ”The Blue-Tail Fly.”

The selection of materials is sometimes inspired: The photograph of the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. — a line of heroically determined figures silhouetted against a stormy sky — is almost mythic in its impact. But the selection is quixotic, too. Why are there so few women activists, authors, and artists? Where are Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks? Why so few firsthand anecdotes from slave narratives?

Of course, the African-American heritage is so rich and diverse that it would be impossible to cram it all into one volume. At least this provocative collection may spark young readers to explore further on their own. B+

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