Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph
From Goodreads: His white teacher tells her all-black class, You’ll all wind up porters and waiters. What did she know? Gordon Parks is most famous for being the first black director in Hollywood. But before he made movies and wrote books, he was a poor African American looking for work. When he bought a camera, his life changed forever. He taught himself how to take pictures and before long, people noticed. His success as a fashion photographer landed him a job working for the government. In Washington DC, Gordon went looking for a subject, but what he found was segregation. He and others were treated differently because of the color of their skin. Gordon wanted to take a stand against the racism he observed. With his camera in hand, he found a way.
Don’t let the heavy-sounding description deter you from this fantastic little book. It does tackle some very difficult issues, but it does it in such an accessible way for young audiences. Carole Boston Weatherford tends to write picture books in verse, collections of poems that tell a story, and they are usually fairly lengthy books. I was surprised to discover that Gordon Parks was fairly sparse in terms of text. Each page has just a few short sentences with fairly easy vocabulary.
Of course, the simplicity of the text belies the difficulty of subject. Parks grew up and lived in a segregated country, and he was not living in the South. When he became a photographer he decided to document the racism and inequality he saw between the black and white communities. It’s here in the story that the book really shines. So much is said with so little and it leaves us, as parents and educators, with the perfect entree into asking open ended questions about these hard topics. Topics like racism and inequality that seem to be so front and center lately. Things that kids notice, but we (and by we I mean white parents), often try very hard not to look to directly at.
The art in the book is wonderful. It has that vintage and modern feel to it, but instead of featuring buildings and classy inanimate objects, the focus of each illustration is the people. They fill the frame, they draw the eye. And that ties in so beautifully with the story itself. One about seeing Black people as human. Seeing working class people as human. The color palette is limited which makes it feel sophisticated, but also warm, inviting, and cozy.
If you’re looking for a book about an interesting Renaissance man, this is it. If you’re looking for a book to help you start difficult conversations, this is it. Or just read the book and let your child make inferences. The message is there.