Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy, created by poet Tony Medina & 13 Artists, published by Penny Candy Books, ISBN: 978-0998799940.
Just look at the illustrators involved with this project. Listed in the order found on the back of the book: Floyd Cooper. Cozbi A. Cabrera. Skip Hill. Tiffany McKnight. Robert Liu-Trujillo. Keith Mallett. Shawn K. Alexander. Kesha Bruce. Brianna McCarthy. R. Gregory Christie. Ekua Holmes. Javaka Steptoe. Chandra Cox. 13 of the very best artists working in the field today. The brilliant Tony Medina has penned 13 poems (each written in the tanka form: 31 syllables over 5 lines) about black boys, and each poem is accompanied by a piece of art that beautifully captures the moods of Medina’s creations.
Cooper’s warm portrait of a smiling little boy (love the bowtie) in the arms of his parents fits the coziness of “Anacostia Angel” for example. Cabrera brings a quiet beauty to “Little Mister May” which shows a kid proudly standing in a suit his Granny made for him so he looks nice for church. Tiffany McKnight brings a burst of fun retro ’70s color to “The Charmer” about a boy whose smile charms girls and makes the other boys jealous. Each turn of the page offers a surprising new image. Some somber (Liu-Trujillo’s “One-Way Ticket” shows a solemn boy carrying groceries while Medina writes of financial hardship), some abstract (Kesha Bruce’s quilt-like “Do Not Enter”), and some surreal and dream-like (R. Gregory Christie’s figure of a giant-sized boy trying in vain to catch a bus in “Athlete’s Broke Bus Blues”).
Those studying illustrations will find a lot to fest on here. Just compare the collages created by Ekua Holmes (“Brothers Gonna Work It Out”) and Javaka Steptoe (“Cat at the Curb”): the former bursting with color, the latter offering a more nocturnal scene (love the cat looking straight at the reader). All the while Medina serves up striking image after striking image with his words. The “Dreadlock halo crown” of the “Street Corner Prophet” (haunting art from Brianna McCarthy), the “South east Benin mask/Face like a road map of kin” in “Images of Kin” (wow, look at how illustrator Skip Hall mixes the past and the contemporary in the art), and the “We preachers’ brothers/Grew up crawlin’ under pews” in “My Soul to Keep” (Shawn K. Alexander’s drawing calls to mind mosaics). Chandra Cox serves up a whimsical image of a boy tossing his space age science project in the air (“Givin’ Back to the Community”), while Keith Mallet evokes a hot summer day in his painting accompanying “Lazy Hazy Daze.”
The poems and the illustrations work together to create a one-of-a-kind book that is truly one of 2018’s very best.