Saturday, April 26, 2014

Harlem: a poem.....

     I felt that Harlem: a poem is a wonderful poem that celebrates the people and places of the city. However, I thought it was more of a middle school to adult poem. I found that there were lots of names and places in the poem that I had to Google while reading. I wish I had found the link to the Scholastic site that had background information for numerous lines in the poem.

     Walter Dean Myers does a wonderful job expressing his love for Harlem. You can tell that he wants the reader to understand what made Harlem a historical and important place. He starts the story talking about the people who settled there and where they came from. He mentions a place in the United States, even the place of origin for some African Americans, Goree Island. He goes on the say that Harlem is a place of promise, "where a man didn't have to know his place simply because he was Black." Throughout the poem, Myers focuses on the sounds and colors of the area, he writes "calls and songs and shouts heavy hearted tambourine rhythms...a new sound, raucous and sassy cascading over the asphalt village and "Yellow/tan/brown/black/red/green/gray/bright colors loud enough to be heard." He also name drops many famous African-Americans that frequented Harlem. Finally he remembers the import places in Harlem: Apollo, the Cotton Club, Abyssinian Baptist Church, and 1-2-5 Street. All of these are important things that make up the Harlem of Walter Dean Myers' childhood. It paints a picture of a vibrant community that produces wonderful leaders and artist.

     The illustrations in this story are done by Walter Dean Myers son, Christopher Myers. They are created from torn paper and add a vibrant energy to to the poem. They reflect that even people in one race come in many different colors and shapes. Myers' art work does a beautiful job representing the people of Harlem.

     I enjoyed reading this poem and I found it moving and powerful. However, when I read it to my second graders, they completely didn't understand it. Many of them had never heard of Harlem or of the many artists that had once lived there. It was a little sad, but I still think it is a wonderful poem.

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