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Black Authors and Illustrators of Children's Books: A Biographical Dictionary.

Nearly thirty years have passed since Nancy Larrick's article "The All-White World of Children's Books" appeared in the Saturday Review. Larrick had conducted a three-year study of over 5,000 juvenile books which revealed that less than one percent of these books had any reference -- in text or in depiction -- to contemporary African Americans. Although major publishers have been slow to respond to this deplorable gap, recent developments, including the emergence of several small publishers and the affirmation of multicultural studies, are bringing a rich diversity to children's literature. Still, an elemental difficulty remains: Many librarians, teachers, and parents often know only a few stellar names -- the Virginia Hamiltons and Leo Dillons and Patricia McKissacks -- among African American authors and illustrators of children's books. Now, three reference works, each with a different focus, combine to provide a satisfying survey of a literature much richer than many know.

The biographical dictionary Black Authors and Illustrators of Children's Books by Barbara Rollock is a significant revision of the earlier edition, published in 1987. The first edition contained 115 biographies; the second edition adds 35 new ones, and at least one-third of the previous selections have received some revision. Other features are likewise expanded: The unnumbered insert of the first edition included 31 black-and-white photographs of authors and illustrators and 10 examples of dust-jacket illustrations; the second edition doubles the number of photos and nearly triples the selection of artwork. Other additions appear as appendices. One of these is a list of award-winning books on black experience; another lists publishers of African American literature for children; and a third presents bookstores and distributors (about 90 of them) from coast to coast.

The format of Rollock's book is simple; children as well as adults will find it easy to use. The biographies run from 100 to 350 words; below each alphabetized name appears the label Author, Illustrator, or Author/Illustrator. Many of the biographies include quotes by the subject about his or her childhood, education, or artistry. Following each biography, Rollock provides a bibliography in chronological order of publication. In all, nearly 500 titles are cataloged.

Rollock gives the reader more than 100 pages of new information in her second edition, yet she has placed some limitations on the amount of revision made to earlier entries. It is sometimes difficult to understand why certain biographies have been altered while others have not. For example, the illustrator Jerry Pinkney has had a prolific period since the 1987 edition, publishing more than a dozen new works. Quite suitably, his biography is expanded and now includes a long, informative comment by the artist about influences on, and motivations for, his work. Illustrator Pat Cummings has also enjoyed much success in recent years; among her books since 1987 is the much-heralded Talking with Artists, a collection of biographies and interviews with illustrators of children's books. Yet despite the broadened impact Cummings enjoys, her biography is unaltered in the new edition. Despite such minor inconsistencies, Rollock's second edition is a welcome resource.

The selection of books -- rather than the lives of their creators -- is the focus of the annotated bibliographies Books by African-American Authors and Illustrators and Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults. The first of these, by Helen Williams, is the more inclusive, with over 1200 titles and annotations. The book is arranged into three age-level sections: for very young children, intermediate readers, and young adults. The fourth section -- Black Illustrators and Their Works" -- follows an entirely different format (discussed later). The annotations are necessarily brief (15-50 words), but combined with the age-level divisions they should help teachers, librarians, and parents to make appropriate decisions. For example, the majority of Lucille Clifton's seventeen books are designated for very young children, but three are catalogued for intermediates and three are designated for young adults.

Williams's inclusiveness, especially the breadth of her section on books for young adults, may cause confusion for some readers. While Williams includes many appropriate works in several genres -- Shirley Chisholm's two autobiographical works are here, for example, as are histories and anthologies of poetry and short stories -- others of the works are by authors writing for mature audiences. Every novel by Toni Morrison and Alice Walker is included. Young adult is a common publishing term, but it does not automatically designate readiness. One must hope that those who suggest books to "young adults" will be guided by an accurate measure of the individual's maturity and by previous knowledge of the many authors listed here.

A unique feature of Books by African American Authors and illustrators is the section on illustrators and the accompanying glossary of art terms. Each entry begins with classification of the illustrator's art in four categories: style, medium, color language, and composition. The reader can immediately recognize artists who tend toward naturalism or who use cartoon style. Of course, several of the illustrators are versatile, using a wide range of media and styles. The four-page glossary provides quick reference for the descriptive terms used in this section. A bibliography follows each entry.

Williams also provides an appendix with a list of award-winning books by African American authors and illustrators, but a comparison with Rollock's list is advisable. While Williams provides titles from a wider range of awards (for example, the ALA's "Notable Children's Books" and School Library Journal's "Best Books of the Year"), her list occasionally omits honors in major categories (such as Virginia Hamilton's Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush, which was a Newbery Honor Book in 1983).

The third edition of Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults, while addressing literatures of people of color, including African Americans, has a more selective purpose than the other two reference volumes. Editors Horning and Kruse have narrowed their selections to "recommended" works published between 1980 and 1990. The Cooperative Children's Book Center identifies "high quality children's and young adult books innovative in style, accurate in content, important in theme and/or unusual in insight."

Multicultural Literature is organized into sixteen sections, some thematic and some by age level. Examples of section titles include "Books for Babies," "Issues in Today's World," "Biographies," and "Understanding Oneself and Others." Any section may contain works of great diversity: Ojibwa culture may be followed by Jamaican and Japanese-American. Readers who want to seek the works specifically on African American culture may use Appendix II, which lists the 140 titles annotated within the book (the total number of recommended books is 483). The annotations run from 30 to 100 words; when appropriate, they include commentary on the illustrations. Even though this collection is less inclusive than the other two, it occasionally unveils titles omitted from these collections. For example, the editors include a summary of Patricia and Frederick McKissack's Taking a Stand Against Racism and Racial Discrimination (1990), a title not listed by Rollock or Williams.

Each of the books discussed here has a purpose that is distinctly different from the others. Used in combination, they provide an extensive overview of African American books for children.
COPYRIGHT 1994 African American Review
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Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Evans, Stan
Publication:African American Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 1994
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