Poet Rio Cortez makes learning seem more like a treat than a task. In this alphabet book for ages 6 and up, each letter is expanded upon by alliterative rhyming text and bright colorful illustrations by Lauren Semmer that offer lessons in Black history.
The lessons are couched in a positive light. Take, for example, the letter M:
“M is for march, for lifting our feet,
taking the movement, the cause to the street.
Black lives matter. Every breath, every dream –
Every thought, each idea, each impossible scheme.
The might of our message is easy to hear:
The drumbeat of hope is louder than fear.”
Similarly, for S, the author doesn’t focus on slavery, but rather on more positive words starting with s: Black scientists, and Black soul artists.
He doesn’t avoid the topic of slavery however; on the U page he writes:
“U is for United States – this story is tough.
The birth of a nation was deadly for us.
We the people? In the land of the free?
No one who was enslaved would agree.”
But again, he doesn’t end on a negative note, but a positive one:
“U is for unbroken, unshaken, unbound,
like Harriet Tubman, who went underground,
took back her freedom and freed hundreds more,
then was a spy in the great
But when the states
were united again,
the fight for our freedom
and lives didn’t end.
So U is for unfinished, this American tale.
With courage and strength, we will prevail!”
Front and back matter includes details to flesh out each entry, and lists directing readers to relevant books, websites, museums, and poetry.
Semmer’s vivid pleasing digital illustrations have a collage/folk art feel. She saturates each double-page spread with color and shows a variety of Black characters from different historical periods with different dress, hairstyles, and skin tones.
Evaluation: The message is that Black lives matter and have always been significant, whether in contributions to society or to family, as expressed on the page for L:
“L is for love. L is for love. L is always for love.”
This book would make a wonderful addition to any library or personal collection.
Note: Workman Publishing, always a source of outstanding works, has provided an excellent Educator Guide to accompany the book, online here.
Published by Workman Publishing, 2020