Soul Looks Back in Wonder


Illustrated by Tom Feelings
And accompanied by thirteen major poets’ responses to his art work

This project is a unique collaboration between renowned African American poets and one of the most successful African American illustrators. Tom Feelings was the first African-American to be awarded a Caldecott Honor for his illustrations. It includes poems by: Maya Angelou, Lucille Clifton, Alexis De Veaux, Mari Evans, Darryl Holmes, Langston Hughes, Rashidah Ismaili, Haki R. Madhubuti, Walter Dean Myers, Mwatabu Okantah, Eugene B. Redmond, Askia M. Toute, and Margaret Walker.

Amongst the bibliographical information included with this book is a detailed description of the creative process behind Feelings’ meticulous illustrative technique: “He blueprinted his finished line drawings onto sepia-toned sheets, and worked color into the figures with color pencils. He then cut-out and cemented down various shapes in colored papers – textured, flat, plain, marbleized, as well as wallpaper – to create the final overall collage effect.” This intricate process results in unique and folky illustrations.

Because the poets were inspired by the art that accompanies each poem, the connection between text and illustration is a particularly powerful. Typically when we think of the illustrative process, an illustrator comes along after an author has already formed their words. The illustrator then must, to the best of their ability, create an image the captures the visual essence of the words on the page. In this case, the words were sprung from the hearts and minds of the poets in direct response to the artwork. Art has the ability to speak to us, and when placed before receptive and skillful pens, beautiful poems emerge.

My favorite poem in the collection is one by Langston Hughes called “To You,”  and I think most teachers, and especially reading specialists, would connect with the message of the poem:

To sit and dream, to sit and read,
To sit and learn about the world
Outside our world of here and now
Our problem world
To dream of vast horizons of the soul
Through dreams made whole,
Unfettered, free – help me!
All you who are dreamers, too,
Help me to make
Our world anew.
I reach out my dreams to you.

The accompanying painting is a regal combination of brown, purple, and gold coloring with accents of blues, greens, a small bird-shaped splash of red.  Of the two-page spread, the rectangular-shaped illustration takes up a little more than two thirds and is shifted to the left. The text takes u the remainder of the page on the right-hand ride with black text on white background. In the illustration, a depiction of a resolute looking young African American girl dominates the left side. Her facial expression is one a unfaltering determination. I imagine this is the same girl, mentally escaping the everyday world she lives in through her thoughts and reading books. Stretching across the page is a woman’s silhouette, similar to one you would imagine on the bow of a ship. This horizontal shape offers a counter-balance to the bold horizontal domination that the young girl creates on the other side of the page.

One of the poems in the collection is not really suitable for children. In Haki R. Madhubuti’s poem “Destiny”, Madhubuti  uses two particular words that are not suitable for young children, but perhaps the poem would still be suitable for mature middle or high school students. Overall, I think this collection would be suitable for use with middle school students studying poetry. Students, particularly of color, would benefit from the affirming messages and cultural pride that exudes from this collection of art and poetry.


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