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The Children's Bookshelf: You So Black - January 29, 2023


You So Black written by Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D. and Illustrated by London Ladd is a very special picture book. The text is from a 2017 poem by Theresa Wilson aka Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D. The poem takes the negative phrase “You So Black” and turns it into a phrase that holds beauty, brilliance, resilience, strength, toughness, and song.

The colorful and well thought out pages, illustrated by London Ladd, are full of history, and impact. They beautifully support the deep feelings of the poem’s words and images. The illustrator uses cut paper treated with acrylic paint, tissue paper and colored pencil to produce a strong visual companion to the poem. In the opening spread the reader can see, hear, and deeply feel the gorgeous night sky and the specialness of a Black woman, wrapped in a halo. The meaning is clear. “You so Black, when you smile, the stars come out. You so Black, when you’re born, the god come out.”

Scientists, singers, politicians, activists, athletes, teachers, fathers, mothers, and children can all be seen and are honored in these illustrations. Martin Luther King Jr. and A Stone of Hope stands solidly in the pages of this book.

You So Black written by Theresa tha S.O.N.G.B.I.R.D. and illustrated by London Ladd is designed for readers 4-8 years of age but will definitely speak to us all. (A Denene Millner Book, Simon, and Schuster Books for Young Readers) 2023.

The Children’s Bookshelf is a production of WCMU. Links to the podcast and the Activity Questions can be found at Children’s Bookshelf dot org.

Activity Questions for You So Black.

The wonderful illustrations in this book are loaded with details. Look through the illustrations again and then start to find the following items and figures: a starry night, a lady wearing a pink suit and hat, a scientist at work, a microphone, a pyramid, a pink bow tie, bubbles, a picture of a unicorn, a baseball cap, church windows, many voices singing together, a large stone of hope, a sign that probably says, “Black Lives Matter.”

Questions to ask yourself about the people shown in this picture book: Where could the woman dressed in a pink gown and her companion dressed in a tuxedo be going? Who is being sworn in for what office?

Can you give the boy’s great-great-great grandmama a name? How is the word “Black” in this book an adjective, an adverb, and a noun? What illustration is your favorite? Why?

The illustration showing many young people singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is so beautiful that you can almost hear the music. To experience this song, go online, with the okay and the help of a family member, and listen to it.

Sue Ann Martin is professor emerita of Communication and Dramatic Arts and the founding and past Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. She first became interested in children’s literature when she wrote her PhD thesis on the oral characteristics of the Caldecott Award-winning children’s books. Her PhD is in Speech and Interpretation with a cognate in Early Childhood Education. She went on to review children’s books for the Detroit Free Press, write three popular resource books for teachers regarding children’s books and the creative process. She also reviewed newly-published books for Arts Almanac specials on WCMU Public Radio. Her 2002 children’s books special for WCMU won a Merit Award in Special Interest Programming from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.