Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem's Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

In 2012, Vaunda Micheaux Nelson published her documentary novel, No Crystal Stair, about the life and life's work of Lewis Michaux, her great uncle.  Mixhaux opened the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem, NYC, believing that knowledge of black writers and intellects was the way to freedom.  Now, Nelson has re-written No Crystal Stair in the form of a picture book for older readers.

The Book Itch is narrated in the first person by Lewis Michaux's young son, Louie, who likes to help his dad in the store on weekends.  Louie is clearly proud of his father's store, seeing it as quite an achievement, a place that draws some many people that sometimes, he says, you can hardly get inside.

Michaux began, Louie says, with a book itch but with only five books, selling them out of a pushcart and the belief that knowledge is power.  Opening the bookstore wasn't easy, especially since he couldn't get a loan from the bank for a bookstore, because, as the banker said "Black people don't read."

Well, Michaux worked hard, saved his money and opened The National Memorial African Bookstore,  or as he like to call it: The House of Common Sense and the Home of Proper Propaganda."  And it was a success, a hub of intellectual thinking and African American history that became a popular destination for all kinds of people - black, white, teachers, politicians, writers, and some famous people including heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, poet/writer Langston Hughes and even Malcolm X, who often spoke from the platform outside the bookstore.

Writing The Book Itch from the perspective of Michaux's son may put this into the category of biographical fiction, but it also allows Nelson to provide a lot of information on a more personal, intimate level, which I think young readers will find very engaging.

Nelson has made Lewis Michaux such a engaging, colorful person whose passion for books and knowledge come through so strongly.  I loved reading his aphorisms, of which he was clearly very fond:

Endpapers from The Book Itch
R. Gregory Christie, who did the illustrations for No Crystal Stair, has teamed up with Nelson on The Book Itch.  Christie's bold strokes and bright vivid colors reflect and compliment the ideas that were so much a part of The National Memorial African Bookstore, and which contrast with the darker colors he uses to show the impact of Malcolm X's murder on the bookstore and Michaux personally.

Be sure to read Nelson's short biography of Lewis Henri Michaux (1895-1976) at the end of the book, as well as her Author's Note and Selected Bibliography for further reading.

The Book Itch will be available on November 1, 2015.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley


  1. This just looks wonderful: I'm definitely adding it to my TBR!

  2. What a great children's book! Diverse children's books are very important to highlight - thanks so much for doing so!


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