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The Lion and the Unicorn 29.3 (2005) 453-457



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Katherine Capshaw Smith. Children's Literature of the Harlem Renaissance. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2004.
[Errata]
There is still room for research and study. We are just half way in telling the story of the Negro; half the truth only has been told.
Mary McLeod Bethune, "The Adaptation of the History of the Negro to the Capacity of the Child," The Journal of Negro History, 1939

The literary focus of the Harlem Renaissance generally includes discussions on the political, creative, and sociological conditions that were inspired by many prolific Blacks of that era. The critical essays by Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph, Alain Locke, Chandler Owen, and Carter G. Woodson are read to define various aspects of the "New Negro." Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, and James Weldon Johnson are a few of the monumental writers that are strongly associated with contributing to the creative literary spirit. And visual artists such as Archibald Motley, Augusta Savage, Sargent Johnson, Aaron Douglas, and James Van Der Zee have contributed to capturing the imagery that represents that era. But what many do not know is how such a political and creative movement initiated the beginnings of Black Children's Literature.

In her book, Children's Literature of the Harlem Renaissance (2004), Katherine Capshaw Smith explain that "[p]reviously unexplored by scholars of children's literature and literary historians of the Harlem Renaissance, this body of work invites critical study as the dynamic point of origin of African American children's literature" (viii). A literary concept of the Harlem Renaissance has been ignored by a large number of scholars who have specialized in this particular era. This text steps in [End Page 453] to assist in correcting the omission of Black childhood culture and literature.

Katherine Capshaw Smith states that the Harlem Renaissance "played a crucial role in the reinvention of black childhood in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s" (viii). Throughout Smith's text the importance of establishing positive literature for Black children is traced as the foundation to establishing a Black childhood. The negative images created by white children's authors and illustrators such as Edgar Windsor Kemble and Helen Bannerman did not qualify as manufacturing a Black childhood since the creators' intention was not to civilize or identify with Black children in their books but more so to use them as caricatures that reinforced for the white child reader an established mentality of superiority. And it was during the Harlem Renaissance that literature was created to strengthen self-esteem and motivate the Black child to achieve more than his or her parents had. And through Smith's Children's Literature of the Harlem Renaissance it is revealed how the mixture of creativity and political agendas formulated a Black childhood by many of the same Black leaders that were monumental figures during that era.

The NAACP's monthly magazine, The Crisis' Children's Numbers (1912–34), a once-a-year supplement dedicated to Negro children, inspired W. E. B. Du Bois and Jessie Fauset to begin The Brownies' Book in January 1920, a magazine dedicated to Black children that was filled with fictional tales, poetry, and true adventures written by and about people of African descent. The magazine's purpose was to encourage children to strive to be the best in order to join the realms of intellectual, creative, and political Black adults that were dedicated in making a better life for their people.

This nationally circulated magazine recognized and rewarded young achievers by displaying their pictures. Stories from various parts of the world filled a literary void for Black children who had never seen their images reflected in the books on the shelves in schools or in public libraries that allowed them to enter. Many of the writers for the magazine were known for their creative and scholarly contributions during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. The Brownies' Book included fairy tales that included African princesses and Black folk tales that were able to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6563
Print ISSN
0147-2593
Pages
pp. 453-457
Launched on MUSE
2005-09-28
Open Access
No
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