Any collection of poems from the Harlem Renaissance is likely to include certain familiar names such as Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson. They are all here in The Entrance Place of Wonders (Abrams, $16.95; 9-12), but it's to Daphne Muse's credit that they are not represented by the same ol' poems. Sure, Hughes's "Dream Variations" is here, but so is the less-familiar "To You" and "Winter Sweetness." Ditto for the repertoires of Cullen and Johnson, from which Muse has chosen judiciously. Even so, the most refreshing selections are from nearly forgotten poets such as James Alpheus Butler Jr. and Alpha Angela Bratton. The latter's "Slumber Song," rich with historical resonance, is also a lovely lullaby. "See how the big moon dips and swings," she writes, "Shaking the stars from its silver wings." Charlotte Riley-Webb's splashy illustrations are wonderfully exuberant, as is "Rhapsody," by William Stanley Braithwaite, the poem from which Muse takes her title. Braithwaite's thoughtful gratitude is a fitting coda for the collection itself: "I am glad for my heart whose gates apart/Are the entrance-place of wonders, Where dreams come in from the rush and din/Like sheep from rains and thunders."Entrance Place of Wonders, indeed. And since Amazon.com's price for the book is only $6.38, compared to the list price of $15.95, you almost can't afford not to buy it, as opposed to borrowing. Might be interesting and worthwhile, too, to compare it to poet Nikki Giovanni's Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate: Looking At The Harlem Renaissance Through Poems.
And do your kids a favor and add some companion books: for older children, say, ages nine and up, Harlem Stomp! A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance by Laban Carrick Hill, and Harlem, a Caldecott Honor book by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by his son Christopher Myers. For the younger set, the picture books Shaky Bones: A Story of the Harlem Renaissance by Pamela Dell, about Simon Brocade, whose dancing leads poet Countee Cullen to nickname him "Shaky Bones"; and Visiting Langston by Willie Perdomo and illustrated by Bryan Collier.
And with the money you saved on Entrance Place, you can go to BookCloseouts and buy yourself, and your older child, a "scratch & dent" copy of The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader, edited by David L. Lewis, for only $4.25. I bought this myself the other month, to add to our growing shelf of Viking Portable Readers, which I hope will come in quite handy for the logic and rhetoric stages.