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Book Review: The Library that Arturo Alfonso Schomburg Built

November 24, 2017

A new picture book biography of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, whose enormous book collection formed the basis of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, is an artistic and literary achievement.

I have been waiting to get my hands on a copy of this book since the moment I heard about it. A new picture book about famed Afro-Puerto Rican activist, writer, and historian Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, illustrated by one of my favorite artists, Eric Velasquez? I am THERE.

Now that I've read it, my anticipation was more than warranted. This is one of my favorite children's books for 2017. Written by Caldecott Medal Honoree and Coretta Scott King Award winner Carole Boston Weatherford, it is a feast for the eyes, the mind, and the soul.

The book covers Schomburg's childhood in Puerto Rico, where his fifth grade teacher alledged that "Africa's sons and daughters had no history, no heroes worth noting." She was wrong, of course. Moreover, this was the spark that lit the fire in Schomburg to seek knowledge willfully obscured (like the African origins of John James Audubon, Alexandre Dumas, and even Beethoven), to collect books and art, to write and to speak, to show that yes, Africans and their descendants have been actors in world history.

Boston Weatherford's lyrical prose is very accessible for the younger reader. Each "chapter" is actually a column of text no more than two pages long. Velasquez's illustrations draw the reader into Schomburg's world. Together, they form a engrossing narrative of the life, impact, and legacy of Arthur Schomburg. This is a book not to be missed.

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Klem-Marí Cajigas

In a former life, Klem-Marí was a Religious Studies scholar. She much prefers being the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life! She wants you to read and share books with the children in your life, and for those children to see you to read as well. Originally from Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí also enjoys her cat, baking, yoga, and the works of Octavia Butler.