Greg Christie Books

Book Reviews - Books for Building Your Library

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Literacyhead writer and third-grade teacher, Cameron Brooks reviews ten titles in this collection of picture books illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, champion for Civil Rights. Christie has illustrated biographies, books of poetry, and realistic fiction titles. There is something on this list for everyone from young children to grown-ups, and this set of books lends itself to supporting an enlightened author study in your classroom.

Richard Wright and the Library Card

William Miller presents this fictionalized account of a real event in the life of writer Richard Wright. Coupled with powerful illustrations by Gregory Christie, Miller's text manages to convey the power of spoken and written words as an undercurrent while eloquently recounting Richard Wright's efforts to read books from the library. From the opening line, "Richard loved the sounds of words," to the last page, "The words came back to him, the stories more real than the train itself," the reader finds insight into the profound power of reading and writing. The narrative also presents some less-talked-about sides of the civil rights movement, connecting both to access to libraries and suppression of education, as well as showing the ways that some white people resisted discrimination.

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The Palm of My Heart

The Palm of My Heart, winner of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award, is a collection of 20 poems written by African-American children born between 1982 and 1988. Gregory Christie's emotive swaths of color enhance viscerally detailed facial expressions. His first-ever painting for a children's book is paired with nine-year-old Ratisha Hawkins' poem, "Black Hands". One of the most evocative images presents an African-American woman weeping before a church with eyes clenched shut and palms turned skyward. When asked about the inspiration behind the painting, Christie says, "I think I was thinking about my mother when I was painting that image, and my grandmother used to wear her hair that way too. In both cases, I think about the different things they went through in life." Spare and careful language proves poems can serve as powerful mentor texts.

Love to Langston

"Harlem is the capital of my world black and beautiful and bruised like me" Tony Medina's poems offer playful and articulate snapshots of fourteen pivotal moments in the life of Langston Hughes. New York City resident Gregory Christie matches his signature aesthetic to Medina's lyricism. From grandmother's stories of slavery and oppression to formative years spent developing an unbreakable sense of place during the Harlem Renaissance, universal themes such as justice and freedom of expression promise to resonate with children from all walks of life.

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Roots and Blues

Peetie Wheatstraw, Rufus Thomas, Keb' Mo', B.B. King, Pinetop Perkins, Otis Taylor, Huddie "Lead Belly" Leadbetter, Jelly Roll Morton... A who's who of influential blues musicians peppers the inside cover of Arnold Adoff's celebration of musical catharsis. An American registry of hardship, Adoff's collection begins by tracking the words and sounds of slaves. "...Brown fingers moving with the regularity of rhythm onto stretched skins onto smooth carved w o o d. This new world music m o v e s with shackle sounds." Words that offer an intense glimpse of cultural migration take the form of Adoff's signature, shaped speech style. Illustrator Gregory Christie's deep azure tones accompany Adoff's verse like a blues harp to a six string. Join Adoff and Christie as the blues spread from Mississippi Delta roots, to Memphis, Kansas City, Saint Louis, Chicago, and beyond.

Keep Climbing Girls

"...Miss Nettie hadn't reckoned with a little girl's ambition. (One that she must satisfy at the risk of extreme contrition.)" Beah Richard's hosanna to girl power inspires readers with convivial rhyme and vocabulary. In a style similar to Brothers in Hope, The Lost Boys of Sudan, R. Gregory Christie's illustrations bring the reader higher and higher into the tree, dwarfing the distraught below. Miss Nettie repeatedly wrestles with a young girl's determination as she tries to coax her down from the branches. But threats of tomboy scars, and Miss Nettie's "blade of shame" don't stand a chance against the will and "wisdom of little girls."

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Brothers in Hope

How many authors of children's literature would dare approach one of the most tragic events in recent history? In Brothers in Hope, The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan Mary Williams joins award-winning illustrator R. Gregory Christie to tell an inspirational story that testifies to the power of love and determination. Garang, a young boy in southern Sudan, returns home one day to a razed village. The lost soul finds himself fleeing the horrors of war alongside thousands of boys without homes or families to return to. Their arduous southeastern trek toward Ethiopia presents choices no one should ever have to consider. Take, for example, the decision to walk at night. During the day they face soldiers' guns, and at night, lions' teeth. Christie tailors his craft with warm, earth tone swaths, a technique which, in his words, "Brings you back to the land." Brothers in Hope offers children a glimpse of the human spirit's resiliency, powered by hope amid tragedy.

The Sun's Daughter

Pat Sherman's interpretation of the Iroquois Corn Maiden story reminds young readers of our connection to the land. Gregory Christie's playful earth tones follow the seasonal story of the Sun's daughter, Maize, and her sisters, Pumpkin and Red Bean. Winter holds Maize captive while the people begin to go hungry. As harbingers of the harvest, pewee birds set out to find and return Maize to the tribe. As children become increasingly estranged from sustainable food systems, The Sun's Daughter offers a historical lesson in cultural tradition from a time when a sense of place was as deep-seated as the roots of the corn plant.

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Deshawn Days

Deshawn is a contemplative ten year-old whose incredible imagination helps him sort through the challenges of growing up in the city. Under the kitchen table, he enjoys the smell of cornbread while "listening to the grown-ups telling stories." After watching the news, pacifism develops as he considers the effects of war on far-away children and families. A set of box springs becomes a trampoline, and Deshawn's imagination soars. In the afterword of Tony Medina's Deshawn Days, the author speaks directly to young readers. "Maybe his experiences will inspire you to write poems, paint pictures, sing songs, or help others too!" The semiautobiographical reflections bring readers into an urban world filled with hardship and joy.

Stars in the Darkness

From the window, a mother's wisdom nurtures the vivid imagination of a boy escaping the sights and sounds of inner-city crime by invoking visions of the moon and stars. When his older brother brings the violence into the home after joining a gang, Mama says, "We can't pretend no more." They devise a plan to curb the threat of violence by organizing nightly peace walks with neighbors. In the words of a brave young boy, they hold hands, "so nobody's alone." Barbara Joosse's urban story, based on an encounter with a former gang member, is brought to life by Christie's mastery of human expression.

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Only Passing Through

Anne Rockwell's poignant biography of Sojourner Truth exemplifies "peace, non-violent social change, and brotherhood," words encircling the Coretta Scott King Award Honor seal on the cover. Illustrator R. Gregory Christie's visceral signature style carries the reader through the extremities of human emotion. From Isabella's younger years as a slave girl, abused and sold by one slave owner to the next, to her calling as a harbinger of liberty and justice later in life, Rockwell and Christie paint an unforgettable picture of strength in the face of adversity.