Review of the Week: Book Itch


BookItchNelson, Vaunda Micheaux. Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore, The. Gregory Christie, Illus. Non-fiction. Carolrhoda, 10/2015. [36]pp. $17.99. 978-0-7613-3943-4. OUTSTANDING. GRADES 2-5.

A picture book presentation of the same Harlem bookstore owner as No Crystal Stair (2012), by the same author and illustrator, from the point of view of Lewis Michaux’s son Lewis Jr., this suits younger readers and can be shared aloud with a group. Witty, alliterative quotes by the senior Lewis Michaux—“Don’t get took! Read a book!”—set a creative, positive, energetic tone that goes well with the voice of the narrator. His youthful perspective describes both good and bad in stride until the death of Malcolm X, the significance of which is clearly represented in several consecutive dark, melancholy images. Nelson doesn’t end on this down-note but allows the young narrator to look forward to his future and to make use of the knowledge and experience of his father’s bookstore, as well as his father’s cleverly phrased advice. This excellent balance of heavy, serious, historically accurate depictions of the time and place and youthful faith, emulation, and respect for the strong figures in his life and his community give readers a sense of multiple dimensions that feel authentic. Christie’s rough-textured oil or acrylic paintings have a gritty, urban feeling that unquestionably reflects the time and place, and shows a range of thoughts and feelings on every unique face. The narrative comments and responses give a taste of the politically and intellectually active community in Harlem and convey the outlook of the bookstore owner as well as the context that surrounded him. This is a loving and fitting celebration of the life-work of a subtly influential person. Back matter includes notes about Michaux, an author’s note, and a bibliography.

Erica Siskind, Oakland PL

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