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Review of Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library
by Carole Boston Weatherford; illus. by Eric Velasquez
Primary, Intermediate    Candlewick    48 pp.    g
9/17    978-0-7636-8046-6    $16.99

Growing up in Puerto Rico, Arturo Schomburg (1874–1938) asked his teachers why his textbooks omitted black people. He knew their contributions mattered, and ravenously read to learn more. At seventeen, Schomburg immigrated to New York, and while he worked hard at his day job, collecting books became his true passion — so much so that later in life his wife demanded that he get rid of some in order to make room for their family. Only then did Schomburg — mailroom clerk at Bankers Trust Company by day but otherwise a committed collector, avid reader, and prominent figure among New York’s black literati — begin to earnestly seek a place where he could share his voluminous Africana collection. In time, his collection became the foundation for Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. In free verse, Weatherford tells of Schomburg’s widespread impact on literature, art, and music but also includes quirky details such as his habit of organizing books by color and size (“like a bouquet”) instead of subject. Velasquez’s richly detailed oil paintings aptly capture Schomburg’s zeal for learning and for teaching others. Framed images imbedded in the narrative focus on important black historical figures who had been left out of the history books, as well as those whose African heritage had been whitewashed out of historical records, including Alexander Pushkin and Ludwig van Beethoven. A must-read about a bibliophile extraordinaire. Appended with a timeline, source notes, and a bibliography.

From the September/October 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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