Books Early Readers Features Genre Lifespan of a Reader Middle Grade Non-fiction Wednesday Nonfiction Otherworldly Realms - Fantasia Picture Books Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] Harlem’s World Depicted by Jacob Lawrence

"Jake Makes A World: Jacob Lawrence, A Young Artist In Harlem" by Sharifa Rhodes Pitts and Christopher Myers.

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Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2020 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, when we can.

Given our otherworldly theme, I thought it would be good to feature picturebook biographies of artists who perceive the world differently, allowing them to “make a world” through colours and images.


Jake Makes A World: Jacob Lawrence, A Young Artist In Harlem (Amazon | Book Depository)

Written by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts Illustrated by Christopher Myers
Published by Museum Of Modern Art (2015)
ISBN: 0870709658 (ISBN13: 9780870709654)
Borrowed from Zayed Central Library Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Book photos taken by me.

The story begins with a very brief introduction of young Jake, and his neighbourhood in Harlem: from the preacher in the corner to the old men playing chess and checkers in the streets, “balancing the boards on their knees.”

As one reads on, it becomes apparent how integral Jake’s environment is to his artistic vision. Snapshots taken by his keen eye and bright mind are transformed as he goes to Utopia Children’s House after school, where he spends his time making art.

The Afterword provided a bit more information about Jacob Lawrence’s development as an artist and how he eventually became famous for his Great Migration paintings. I would have wanted a bit more information, though, about the Utopia Children’s House in the afterword as well, and a rough timeline of his works, and whether it coincided with the time that he was doing art in this Utopia House. It would be interesting to note whether the seeds of his artwork were discovered and refined through the time he spent in this place, which served as his sanctuary, giving him the opportunity to grow and develop as an artist.

At the time that I am drafting this review, I just watched the harrowing Netflix limited series When They See Us, also set in Harlem. Positioning this narrative alongside the preponderance (or lack) of opportunities provided to coloured youth in New York, or Harlem specifically, which served almost like another character in the story, would have made this story even more relevant, engaging, and substantive.


#ReadIntl2020 Update: Both author and illustrator are POC from United States of America.

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Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

1 comment on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] Harlem’s World Depicted by Jacob Lawrence

  1. lindabaie

    I somehow missed this, Myra. My students & I studied Jacob Lawrence years ago, a wonderful study of this important man.

    Liked by 1 person

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