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Reviews of the 2013 CSK Author Award winners

Hand in Hand by Andrea Davis PinkneyWinner: Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea Davis Pinkney; illus. by Brian Pinkney (Jump at the Sun Books/Disney)
Presenting ten biographical vignettes in chronological order — Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Barack H. Obama II — the Pinkneys create a testament to African American males that, taken together, tell one big story of triumph (a story that, incidentally, spans American history). Each profile, fifteen to thirty pages long, includes an introductory poem, a watercolor portrait, and spot illustrations. Brian Pinkney’s illustrations are a perfect marriage of line, color, and medium and complement Andrea Pinkney’s colloquial and ebullient text. “Benjamin Banneker was born under a lucky star. Came into this world a freeborn child, a blessing bestowed on few of his hue.” Each profile is compact yet comprehensive, but since virtually all of these men were eloquent writers and speakers, it’s mildly disappointing that more of their own words didn’t find their way into the text. Still, this is an impressive accomplishment, and a worthy companion to Kadir Nelson’s Heart and Soul (rev. 11/11). Sources, further reading, a timeline, and an index are appended. JONATHAN HUNT

Each Kindness by Jacqueline WoodsonHonor: Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson; illus. by E. B. Lewis (Paulsen/Penguin)
Narrator Chloe turns her back when new student Maya, clothed in what appear to be thrift store oddments, is seated next to her in class. At recess, Chloe pointedly gathers her best friends to share schoolyard secrets, ignoring Maya’s advances of friendship. Maya plays alone, seemingly unbowed by the continuing ostracism, until one day, suddenly, she’s gone. Only then does teacher Ms. Albert prompt the class to share with one another stories about “what kind things we had done” — acts that might have “rippled out” like the pebbles they drop into a bowl of water as they describe their good deeds; meanwhile, a silent, belatedly thoughtful Chloe regrets “each kindness I had never shown.” Woodson’s affecting story, with its open ending, focuses on the withholding of emotion rather than outright bullying, and Lewis reflects the pensive mood in sober watercolors, suggesting Maya’s troubled courage and Chloe’s repentance in subtly detailed portraits. Like Ms. Albert’s little stones, the book is a good conversation starter. JOANNA RUDGE LONG

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson "No Crystal Stair"Honor: No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illus. by R. Gregory Christie (Carolrhoda Lab)
Inspired by Marcus Garvey and the drive to make a difference, Lewis Michaux opened the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem at the end of the Great Depression with an inventory of five books and a strong faith that black people were hungry for knowledge. Over the next thirty-five years, his store became a central gathering place for African American writers, artists, intellectuals, and political figures, including Malcolm X, who frequently gave his speeches in front of the bookstore. But Michaux also sought to reach ordinary citizens, believing that pride and self-knowledge would grow naturally from an understanding of global black history and current events. He didn’t just sell books; he surrounded his customers with ideas and provocative discussion. He also drew people in with pithy windows signs that used humor and clever rhymes. When Sugar Ray Robinson stopped by in 1958, for example, Michaux communicated his disapproval of the hair-straightening products the boxer used: “Ray, what you put on your head will rub off in your bed. It’s what you put in your head that will last ‘till you’re dead.” Short chapters — some just a paragraph or two—are written in thirty-six different voices, mostly those of Michaux himself, family members, and close associates. Some of the voices are those of fictitious characters based on composites—customers, a newspaper reporter, a street vendor—but most are real people whose statements have been documented by the author in her meticulous research. The voices are interspersed with documents such as articles from the New York Amsterdam News and Jet magazine and with excerpts from Michaux’s FBI file. As Michaux’s grandniece, the author also had access to family papers and photographs. Given the author’s close relationship with the subject, she manages to remain remarkably objective about him, largely due to her honest portrayal of the lifelong conflict between him and many of his family members, most notably his evangelist brother, who didn’t approve of his radical politics. Sophisticated expressionistic line drawings illustrate key events. An extraordinary, inspiring book to put into the hands of scholars and skeptics alike. KATHLEEN T. HORNING

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