I, Too, Am America

illus. by Bryan Collier. CIP. S & S. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-2008-3. LC 2011002879.
K-Gr 5—Hughes's poem of burgeoning pride in one's African American identity, written at the height of the Harlem Renaissance in 1925, is interpreted anew in this striking picture book. Collier has visualized the message of the sparely written poem, barely 60 words in length, through the lens of a Pullman porter. "I, too, sing America" proclaims the opening spread that depicts a passenger rail car whizzing by; then, "I am the darker brother" shows an African American young man in the porter's uniform gazing squarely at readers through a faint, translucent overlay of the American flag, a recurring motif. As the porter cleans up the club car and examines the detritus—newspapers, magazines, blues, and jazz albums left by the train's well-heeled passengers—he impulsively flings it all from the caboose, scattering this knowledge to those who will willingly learn from it. Wafting through time and space, these items fall into the hands of a young female field worker in the long-ago South as well as residents in a contemporary northern urban landscape. The poem's powerful conclusion—"I, too, am America"—depicts a young boy on the subway with his mother, peering out the window through a readily visible flag toward his unknown but hopeful future. Collier's signature mixed-media collages create bold, textured images that give tangible expression to the poet's potent words. A memorable and multilayered volume for all libraries.—Kathleen Finn, St. Francis Xavier School, Winooski, VT
Steeped in flag symbolism, Collier's mixed-media illustrations show Hughes's "darker brother" as a Pullman porter who collects "items left behind" and distributes passengers' newspapers, record albums, etc., to other African Americans along the train's route. As he explains in a lengthy artist's note, Collier provides a "visual story line" based on the "true actions of Pullman porters" for this iconic poem.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing