I, Too, Sing America by Catherine Clinton; Houghton
Mifflin Company: Boston, 1998; $20
This is a collection of African-American poetry that is tragic and triumphant. You will learn a lot about history from these poems. I am an eighthgrader studying American history at Farb Middle School. This book helped me understand the issue of slavery from the point of view of people who were slaves, and made me think about racism and discrimination in America in a way that I didn’t think about from reading my textbook from school.
This book is a mixture of poets’ biographies, the history of the time when they were alive, and their writings. It begins in the 1700s and continues through today. There are poems about Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Other poems describe Indian attacks and the American Revolution. Famous African-Americans such as Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, and W. E. B. Du Bois are included in this book. Also, I learned about poets that I never heard of before I read this book.
The illustrations are strong, beautiful drawings by Stephen Alcorn. When I saw the cover of this book, I wanted to have it because it was so beautiful. The book cover, people dancing on books and reaching for stars, captures the hope that many of the poems make you feel inside as you read them.
My favorite poem is written by Langston Hughes, titled “Merry-Go-Round, Colored Child at Carnival.” It stuck in my head because I remember when I went to Seaport Village in San Diego and my mother let my brother, my sister and me ride the carousel. We sat on the beautiful horses, going up and down, and laughing as the carousel went around. I didn’t laugh when I read the poem about a colored child who wanted to know where was the section for colored people to ride. This poem is a history lesson about Jim Crow laws, which made separate things for Caucasian people and colored people such as drinking fountains, bathrooms, schools and restaurants. The child asks, “Where’s the horse for a kid that’s black?” He says he knows where the back of the bus is but he wonders where the back of the carousel is. My brother, sister and I would have been the children watching the Caucasian children laugh and wondered why we couldn’t get on if we had been alive when the author had lived.
What I didn’t like about the book is that I didn’t understand all the poetry. I will try to read those poems when I am older. What I like best about this book is that it has poetry by people I have seen on TV like Maya Angelou, and people like Lucy Terry, who was a slave in the 1700s, and a section telling about the poet. These poems are like a history lesson that grabs your heart and doesn’t let go. I like history, but reading my middle school textbook is a little bit boring. You won’t let go of this book, I, Too Sing America, until you have read every poem in it.