Book Review: The New Brownies’ Book: A Love Letter to Black Families

Book Cover Images image of The New Brownies’ Book: A Love Letter to Black Families

by Karida L. Brown and Charly Palmer

    Publication Date: Oct 10, 2023
    List Price: $40.00
    Format: Hardcover, 208 pages
    Classification: Nonfiction
    ISBN13: 9781797216829
    Imprint: Chronicle Books
    Publisher: Chronicle Books
    Parent Company: McEvoy Group

    Read a Description of The New Brownies’ Book: A Love Letter to Black Families

    Book Reviewed by Clarence V. Reynolds

    In the November 1910 premier issue of The Crisis, the official journal of the NAACP, historian, scholar, civil rights activist, sociologist, and NAACP cofounder W. E. B. Du Bois noted: “The Crisis would be ‘A Record of the Darker Races.’” Among the goals of the publication, was to promote racial pride, to recognize Black excellence, and to advocate the important role that Blacks played in society, including the arts and literature. As the editor of The Crisis, Du Bois strongly believed in the need to extend his ideals of racial pride to youngsters. In January 1920, he launched The Brownies’ Book: A Monthly Magazine for the Children of the Sun. The inaugural issue featured a young Black girl wearing a crown and angel/fairy costume on the cover, and the cost was 15 cents a copy and a dollar and a half for a year’s subscription. For nearly two years, each publication featured a variety of artwork, poems, photography, stories, songs, and letters by celebrated Black artists and writers of the time as well as children and parents that aimed “To be a thing of Joy and Beauty, dealing in Happiness, Laughter, and Emulation It will seek to Teach Universal Love and Brotherhood of all little folk—black and brown and yellow and white.”

    image of the cover of The Brownies' Book published January 1921 by W. E. B. Du Bois and Augustus DillThe Brownies’ Book, first published one hundred plus years ago, by W. E. B. Du Bois and Augustus Dill, was created with love and respect for Black children. The poems, stories, plays, advice included were affirmations of the joy, beauty, diversity, and accomplishments during a time that was filled with derisive images and negative stereotypes of Black life,” says Cheryl Willis Hudson, VP and editorial director of Just Us Books. Willis Hudson and her husband, Wade Hudson, founded Just Us Books in 1988 and has published and/or created hundreds of vibrant books for children and young adults that reflect the diversity of Black history, heritage, and experiences. “Although the publication life was only about two years, it [The Brownies’ Book] established a high literary standard and helped to establish a legacy of literature with Black children in mind,” Willis Hudson adds.

    The Brownies’ Book ceased publication in December 1921, due to the economic times. Now, more than 100 years after the original The Brownie’s Book, Dr. Karida L. Brown and Charly Palmer recently published The New Brownie’s Book: A Love Letter to Black Families. Inspired by the mission and spirit of Du Bois and the groundbreaking publication he coedited with the novelist, critic, and poet Jessie Redmon Fauset, The New Brownie’s Book is filled with engaging, imaginative, and tenderhearted works aimed to empower and inspire Black children with a sense of self-assurance and racial pride through conceptual images and uplifting poetry and prose. Divided in ten chapters with titles such “Family Ties,” “Let Me Count the Ways,” “We Were Kings,” and “School Daze,” the book features more than sixty essays, poems, stories, and songs accompanied by stunning artwork all showcased here to inspire today’s generation of young children and their families. Among the fifty contributors—established artists and writers, scholars as well as young writers—included in this tribute to young people are works by Palmer and Brown, Kai Adia, Lavett Ballard, Bertice Berry, Demetri Burke, Alice Faye Duncan, Zoe Jones, Frank X Walker, Alyasa “Ali” Sewell, and Damon Young. Heartfelt essays such as “A Love Letter to You” by writer Halima Taha and “Death Leaves a Scar, Love Leaves Memories,” by high-school student Wesley Gordon, dedicated to his grandparents, are among the many highlights. This salute to Black youth and family life also includes a few archival images from the original The Brownies’ Book and one chapter is devoted to works written by Langston Hughes that were published in original 1921 issues of the magazine.

    In the 1900s, there were very few, if any, positive representations of the achievements of Black people found in the pages of most books. Let alone in the books for young people. Today, during these challenging times of books being banned and the attempts to discount, erase and/or silence the experiences of Blacks in America that are presented in literature, it is crucial for a book such as The New Brownie’s Book to exist as an important publication.

    Inside each issue of the original publication, it was declared: “DESIGNED FOR ALL CHILDREN, BUT ESPECIALLY FOR OURS.” In the chapter titled “Love Letter,” Palmer and Brown write: “Together, we believed that we could create something bigger than the two of us could ever have come up with alone. An artist and a sociologist, husband and wife, both creatives in our own right we produced The New Brownies’ Book as a labor of love.”

    Read Chronicle Books’s description of The New Brownies’ Book: A Love Letter to Black Families.
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