What better book to feature for National Poetry Month and Perfect Picture Book Friday than this story about the first Black person to win a Pulitzer Prize for her poetry. An achievement made even more phenomenal given the year she won—1950.
The thread that winds its way through this book is one of a flower seeking light. From the face surrounded by petals on the cover to the flower pattern on the end papers to the quote inserted on the title page:
cracks into furious flower. Lifts its face
all unashamed. — Gwendolyn Brooks
to the first spread where the young Gwendolyn contemplates a flower fiercely blooming in a crack in the sidewalk on Chicago’s South Side.
Duncan sets the tone with the elevated trains that “grumble, rumble, and roll real fast.”
Gwendolyn wonders: Can flowers grow without sunlight?
She’s a child who keeps to herself, who’s more comfortable with books than her peers. But she listens. She hears:
Women talk about men.
Men talk about sports.
Children call Gwen—”ol’ stuck-up heifer!”
But her parents believe in her—even when she can’t find the “RIGHT” words and buries her poems in the back yard.
They believe in her when her school teacher accuses Gwen of cheating because she writes so well.
I love this image of her mother fiercely marching down to school with Gwen in tow, insisting that Gwen prove to her teacher that, yes, she’s capable of such eloquence. Gwen writes a poem that forces the teacher to back down, and Gwen begins to believe in her writing.
Her parents continue to support her efforts, recognizing her talent. She’s allowed to “sit and think” instead of mopping floors and doing other chores. She writes a poem a day. She revises.
Gwen’s confidence is a bud in spring.
She writes poems for the Chicago Defender, and begins to seek out other poets. She graduates college and gets married. While her husband goes to work, Gwen writes and revises in their two-room kitchenette, and mothers their son. Her first book of poetry is published in 1945 and a second, Annie Allen, follows four years later. It wins the Pulitzer Prize in 1950.
Her husband and son and parents celebrate the flower that they have loved, the flower who has thrived and blossomed.
She found her light.
Duncan’s lyrical writing suits her subject perfectly. Back matter includes an author’s note that delves more deeply into the specifics of Brooks’s life , a timeline, and suggested readings to find out more, along with a bibliography. Recognition for the poet’s work includes not only the Pulitzer but an appointment as the 29th Poet Laureate of the United States, National Medal of Art, and the Lincoln Laureate Award.
Pair this book with BRONZEVILLE BOYS & GIRLS by Gwendolyn Brooks, illustrated by Faith Ringgold.
In honor of Gwendolyn Brooks, plant flowers in your yard or garden where they will thrive in the sun.
Write a poem about a flower in sunlight.
Title: A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks
Author: Alice Faye Duncan
Illustrator: Xia Gordon
Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books, 2019
Themes: Gwendolyn Brooks, poetry, believing in yourself
For more perfect picture book recommendations, please visit Susanna Hill’s blog.