Acclaimed writer Alice Faye Duncan tells the story of poet and author Gwendolyn Brooks with her latest book, “A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks.”
Using a writer’s voice that is both wise and witty, Duncan introduces young readers to the early years and works of Brooks, essentially creating her own song to celebrate Brooks’ life.
Each numbered section is heralded with “SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks,” the first line of a couplet or triplet that sets the theme for a developmental period or episode in Brooks’ life.
She is depicted as ostracized by other children but loved fiercely within her home. In one vignette, a teacher accuses Brooks of plagiarizing and her furious mother rushes to the school in her defense. Brooks creates a beautiful poem “Forgive and Forget” on the spot, to demonstrate that she writes and speaks with the finest ease.
Brooks grew up on the South Side of Chicago, reading and writing consistently from a young age. Her talent was lovingly nurtured by her parents and she ultimately published 20 books of poetry, two autobiographies and one novel – and was the first African-American author to win the prestigious Pulitzer Prize.
Duncan, who tells the story of Brooks by featuring a handful of Brooks’ own poems interspersed with her writing, discovered the snappy-jazzy poems of Brooks as a child while scanning the bookshelves in her parents’ home, and became intrigued with her writings.
After Duncan earned a bachelor’s degree in English, she began telling stories for young readers. Her books include “Honey Baby Sugar Child”; “Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop”; and “The Twelve Days of Christmas in Tennessee.”
Illustrator Xia Gordon’s reminiscent images pair well with the text, creating a meditative mood with pictures that at times appear to illuminate off of the page. The brightness of Gordon’s illustrations magnifies the light of Brooks’ words and Duncan’s remarkable tribute to them.
Gordon offers outlined images in warm, earth-toned pinks and browns, evoking sunset on the brick buildings of Chicago and provoking emotions with shadowy swells of color.
“A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks” will be of interest to children who enjoy biographies, historical works and poetry. It is a beautifully told story of one of America’s hidden figures and finest poets. Also, with African-American History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March, the story is an important and inspiring one to share.
Duncan’s closing remarks and timeline summarize Brooks’ lifetime accomplishments, noting her commitment to mentorship and community support.
(Alice Faye Duncan currently serves as a school librarian in her hometown of Memphis. She can be contacted at alicefayeduncan.com.)