THERE WAS A PARTY FOR LANGSTON, KING O’LETTERS by Jason Reynolds & Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey

Happy February! As we close out Black History Month, I would like to share one of my most recent favorite picture books, which happens to be written by, illustrated by, and about exceptional Black authors.

There Was a Party for Langston, King O’ Letters is the debut picture book by award-winning young adult author Jason Reynolds and illustrator duo Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey. It’s hard to believe that Reynolds, the young adult author phenom, has not written a picture book before now, but it’s no surprise that his first one is as good as it is. He writes in a poetic manner that translates perfectly to the picture book format.

There Was a Party for Langston is also a Caldecott Honoree and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award Honoree as of January 2024. These honors are well-deserved because this book is unique, masterfully done, and exciting. Reynolds’ debut picture book honors the Harlem Renaissance poet (and Joplin-born!) Langston Hughes, and it honors him well. As he discusses in the afterword, the author was inspired to write this book after seeing a photo of writers Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou dancing. These esteemed writers (or “word makers” as he calls them) were dancing at a party honoring Hughes at the New York Public Library in Harlem.

There Was a Party for Langston recaps both the events of the party and the events of Hughes’ life as well as the legions of writers and readers he inspired over the years. Reynolds emulates Hughes and other Harlem Renaissance writers through text that feels energetic and alive, with words stretching across each page, seemingly in motion. For example, when Reynolds describes how Hughes’ words could “[turn] birds into words flying all around him,” he transforms lines from Hughes’ poem “Dream Variation” into the bodies of birds flying toward the sun.

The collaborative nature of the art and the story is top-tier. The Pumphreys’ 50s-inspired comic-style art is beautiful on its own, but the way they bring the text to life and incorporate it into each page is unparalleled. When Reynolds tells of Hughes’ influence on Angelou and he describes her ability to “make the word ‘woman’ seem like the word ‘mountain’,” the Pumphreys paint a woman lying on her side in the shape of a mountain with “woman” across her back in green to look like trees and a stream rolling out in front of her spelling out the words “shine on me.” I can’t imagine a picture book that would honor Hughes more fully while simultaneously being some of both Reynolds and the Pumphrey brothers’ best work. There Was a Party for Langston is a joy to read aloud.

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