In the 1930s, Lewis’s dad, Lewis Michaux Sr., had an itch he needed to scratch–a book itch. How to scratch it? He started a bookstore in Harlem and named it the National Memorial African Bookstore.
And as far as Lewis Michaux Jr. could tell, his father’s bookstore was one of a kind. People from all over came to visit the store, even famous people–Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, and Langston Hughes, to name a few. In his father’s bookstore people bought and read books, and they also learned from each other. People swapped and traded ideas and talked about how things could change. They came together here all because of his father’s book itch. Read the story of how Lewis Michaux Sr. and his bookstore fostered new ideas and helped people stand up for what they believed in.
This companion to No Crystal Stair (2012) introduces younger readers to Nelson’s great uncle, Lewis Michaux Sr., owner of Harlem’s National Memorial African Bookstore. Michaux’s young son Lewis Jr. narrates; he recalls helping his father with the day-to-day operation of the shop; visits from the famous, including Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X; and the devoted community patronage that helped the store thrive for nearly four decades. Nelson highlights Michaux’s dedication to his calling (he financed the business with his own money and often slept at the store when customers stayed late), as well as his determination to educate his clientele. She also notes the political climate the store fostered, detailing a missed meeting with Malcolm X on the night he was shot, which probably saved Michaux’s life. Christie, who also illustrated the earlier volume, here uses a bold color palette and realistically rendered figures. He incorporates many of Michaux’s slogans (‘Don’t get took! Read a book!’) into the art, especially on the end papers and in depictions of the storefront. Appended with generous back matter including a list of sources, this moving tribute should be a welcome addition to almost any collection.–starred, Booklist
A man with a mission leaves a memorable mark in Harlem. The National Memorial African Bookstore and its owner, Lewis Michaux, were vibrant Harlem fixtures for many years. Nelson, who told her great-uncle’s story for teen readers in the award-winning No Crystal Stair, also illustrated by Christie (2012), now turns to the voice of Michaux’s son as narrator in this version for a younger audience. The son is an enthusiastic and proud witness to history as he talks about visits to the bookstore by Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. Michaux’s commitments to reading, knowledge, and African-American history shine brightly through the liberal use of boldface and large type for his pithy and wise sayings, as in ‘Knowledge is power. You need it every hour. READ A BOOK!’ Christie’s richly textured and complex paintings, created with broad strokes of color, showcase full bookcases and avid readers. His use of a billboard motif to frame both scenes and text evokes a troubled but strong neighborhood. Faces in browns and grays are set against yellow and orange backgrounds and depict intense emotions in both famous and ordinary folk. The Michaux family’s deeply felt sorrow at the assassination of Malcolm X will resonate with all readers. From the author’s heart to America’s readers: a tribute to a man who believed in and lived black pride.–starred, Kirkus Reviews
Vaunda Micheaux Nelson is the author of The Book Itch, as well as three Coretta Scott King Award-winning books: No Crystal Stair, Bad News for Outlaws, and Almost to Freedom. She is a former youth services librarian in New Mexico. Visit her online vaundanelson.com.
R. Gregory Christie‘s illustrations have earned him many awards, including a Caldecott Honor, many Coretta Scott King Honors, and multiple spots on the New York Times‘ annual Best Illustrated Children’s Books lists. He lives in Georgia.