In February I received a gorgeous book from Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. The book, Black is a Rainbow Color, written by Angela Joy and illustrated by Ekua Holmes, is an event.
Holmes impressive illustrations are thick with meaning but inviting enough to capture and keep the attention of young readers as is Joy’s rhythmic prose.
This book introduced readers to a thoughtful girl, maybe 8 or 9 years old, sitting on a stoop as she contemplates the colors in a rainbow: red, green, blue, yellow, orange, violet, and indigo. She claims the color black for herself and notes that there is “no BLACK in rainbows.”
In the next image the girl lays on her belly wearing a dress decorated with bright sunflowers as she draws black feathers with a crayon. Black may not be in rainbows, but the text reminds readers where it can be found: “tangled in a box,” “a feather on white winter snow,” and “dirt where sunflowers grow.”
Black is beautiful and vital. The next several pages continue to name all the things black is from “the robe on Thurgood’s back” to the lyrics of the popular “Hush Now, Don’t Explain”.
The picture book ends with the line, “Black is a rainbow, too.”
Joy includes a thoughtful author’s note that explains her motivation for writing Black is a Rainbow Color, which was, in part, to “make the word [black] safe and palatable for children of all ethnicity.” She certainly does! Joy and Holmes depict black as a celebration of culture, history, and family.
Along with her author’s note, Joy incorporates a playlist to introduce children to the sounds of black culture. She also includes a detailed list explaining the cultural references introduced in the book as well as complete poems by Hughes and Dunbar. This is followed by a timeline of black ethnonyms used in America and a bibliography. Whew! I told you the book is an EVENT!
Joy’s words and Holmes illustrations cradle each other, producing a story of beauty, pride, and depth. Black is a Rainbow Color is appropriate for children of all ages, making it a perfect book for family collections. The back matter will help older readers understand the references made in the books images and text, while younger readers will delight in the bold colors and clear rhythm of the prose.
I highly recommend this picture book for personal and public library collections. It is a rare gem that teaches without being at all didactic. At once subtle and bold – simply marvelous!