Sunday, February 10, 2008

Book Bunch: Looking at Langston Hughes

I love the poetry of Langston Hughes. I used to read poems from his book The Dream Keeper to my second grade students. I always shared poems from the book when I read them Coming Home: from the Life of Langston Hughes, a picture book biography that was written and illustrated by Floyd Cooper.

Today, I’m reviewing Tony Medina’s book of "autobiographical" poems about Langston Hughes entitled Love to Langston. As the front flap of the book jacket states: “Each poem explores an important event or theme in Hughes’ life, from his lonely childhood and the racism he overcame, to his love of travel and his ultimate success as a writer.” In his introduction, Medina tells readers that his book “captures glimpses of Langston’s life in the art form he cherished most—poetry.” The book's poems are narrated in the voice of Langston Hughes.

Written by Tony Medina
Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Lee & Low, 2002

The fourteen poems contained in the book give us glimpses not only of events and themes in Hughes’ life—but also a peek inside the man, his thoughts and emotions. Because Medina speaks in the voice of Hughes, the poems seem personal. It's as if the poet is talking directly to and confiding in the book’s readers.

Following are excerpts from Love to Langston, which I hope will give you a flavor of Medina’s free verse poetry in the book:

Langston speaks of libraries being special places for him in his poem Libraries.

From Libraries

to sit and to stay
with books and books
and books of endless

beautiful words

keeping me company
taking my loneliness
and blues


He explains his feelings for his father in another poem:

From I Do Not Like My Father Much

My father is a man who could not do what
he wanted to do or be what he wanted to be
so he takes out his pain on everyone
even his own family

His anger causes me pain
just the same

No, I do not like my father much

He tells of his love for his favorite place in Harlem Is the Capital of My World:

Harlem is a bouquet of black roses
all packed together and protected
by blackness and pride…

Yeah, Harlem is where I be—
where I could be
Harlem is the capital of my world

In Jazz Makes Me Sing, Langston relates how the music “makes me/think about my sadness/and how I ain’t alone/The blues makes me feel/a whole lot better/It hits my heart in/the funny bone.”

In Poetry Means the World to Me, he expresses the importance of poetry in his life.

From Poetry Means the World to Me

Poetry means the world to me
it’s how I laugh and sing
how I cry and ask why…

Poetry is what I use
To say
I love you

The fourteen “glimpses” into the life of Langston Hughes also: show us a young boy learning about his people from listening to the stories his grandma tells him; speak of the prejudice he faced in school and about Jim Crow; recall his high school days when he lived in a white neighborhood where his white friends were immigrants and outsiders like him; and tell about his travels to many different places around the world.

Medina modeled some of his poems in Love to Langston after poems Hughes wrote for The Dream Keeper: Grandma’s Stories evokes Aunt Sue’s Stories and Sometimes Life Ain’t Always a Hoot echoes the sentiments expressed in Mother to Son.

In the back matter, Medina includes Notes for Love to Langston. In these detailed notes, the author provides information about the poet’s life and background information for each of the poems. Love to Langston is an excellent book to share with students during Black History Month--or any time of the school year.

Classroom Connections

  • Read Coming Home to your students along with a few poem selections from The Dream Keeper.
  • Continue to read two or three poems a day from The Dream Keeper for a period of four or five days.
  • Then share and discuss the fourteen poems in Love to Langston.
  • Follow up your reading of Love to Langston with readings of selected poems from the book—along with the detailed notes about those particular poems.
  • Read Grandma’s Stories and Aunt Sue’s Stories, Sometimes Life Ain’t Always a Hoot and Mother to Son. Discuss the poems with your students and talk about the similarities in Hughes’ and Medina’s poems.
  • It would be great to have several paperback copies of The Dream Keeper in your classroom. Some of the poems in the book are short and would be easy for children to memorize. You could let children peruse the book and select poems they might like to memorize and recite for their classmates or share with them in a choral reading exercise.

Here are links to some poems written by Langston Hughes:

Dream Variations



I, Too

Mother to Son

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

Theme for English B

From Random House: More than twenty poems excerpted from Vintage Hughes

Click here to read about the career and poetry of Langston Hughes.


Charlotte said...

Thanks for this great post! I really enjoyed visiting here on a wet afternoon...(although I'm sure I would have enjoyed it on a dry afternoon too...)

Elaine Magliaro said...


Thanks for stopping by. It's rainy and gray where I live, too. I'm glad you liked my post about Langston Hughes.