Sunday, February 9, 2020

MMGM: Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome

It's 1946, and 11-year-old Langston and his Daddy have moved from Alabama to Chicago as part of the great migration. Langston's mother has recently passed away and he is having difficulty coming to terms with his loss, and with living in a city he hates. Langston misses his Mama, Alabama and his family, and his loneliness is only magnified by all the noise and people around him. To top that off, at Haines Junior High School, Langston is the target of schoolyard bully Lymon and his two sidekicks, Errol and Clem, who delight in making fun of him for being a "country boy."

One day, to avoid a confrontation with Lymon, Langston heads out of school in a different direction and finds himself standing in front of the George Cleveland Hall branch of the Chicago Public Library. Going inside, Langston is awed by its beauty but more, noticing the portraits hanging on the walls, by the fact that it is a library devoted to African American artists, and that it is open to any Chicago resident. As he walks along the shelves of books, Langston discovers one with his name. Reading his first Langston Hughes poem, Langston feels as though he is reading the words in his own heart. And imagine his surprise when he discovers that Langston Hughes is his namesake, chosen by his Mama.

Langston returns to the library again and again, even lying to his father about where he is going, knowing he would disapprove. But when Langston is left in the care of a neighbor, Mrs. Fulton, while his father returns to Alabama for a week, he learns she is a high school teacher who also loves poetry. Will she be an ally now or an enemy?

Langston may have found sanctuary in the library and the books he reads there, but it doesn't mean that he is being left alone by Lymon. No, indeed, but will a confrontation with this bully finally open up some honest communication between Langston and his Daddy?

Finding Langston is Lesa Cline-Ransome's debut middle grade novel. I've always enjoyed her picture books, so naturally I was looking forward to reading this. And I loved it. It is historical fiction, set in the south side of a post-war Chicago, and is narrated in the first person by Langston. He tells his story plainly and simply, and despite missing his Mama and home, and his intense feelings of loneliness and alienation, he narrates without self-pity or anger, two emotions that would certainly feel understandable. Langston has keen awareness of his surroundings, both in Alabama and Chicago, providing the reader with multilayered and textured imagery appealing to their sense of touch, smell, and hearing as he experiences the world around him.

As Langston explores the poetry of Langston Hughes and others, he discovers the power of words to help him express himself and lessen his feelings of loneliness and loss knowing that others have felt the same way.

Finding Langston includes many details about life for African Americans, from the whites-only libraries in Alabama to the kind, welcoming librarians in the Chicago library. There is mention of the Port Chicago disaster, and the Harlem Renaissance, inviting readers to explore these topics more.

This is a short but powerful and beautifully written novel exploring themes of bullying, death, grief, and discrimination through the life of an 11-year-old African American boy. You can find a very useful Educator's Guide for Finding Langston from the publisher, Holiday House, HERE

Last Poetry Friday, I posted my personal favorite Langston Hughes poem and the one I used in school to introduce my students to Langston Hughes. It is called "I Dream A World," and as they always pointed out it still resonates in today's world.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was an ARC gratefully received from the publisher.
Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle. 


  1. This is a time period I always enjoy reading about. Langston sounds like an endearing character. I've added this to my future read list thanks to your excellent review. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  2. I read and reviewed this book last year and so I really enjoyed reading your thoughts -- a great reminder about the story. Now the bully, Lymon, has his own book, (Leaving Lymon) and I look forward to reading his story. It came out Jan. 5 or 7.

  3. I really loved this book as well for all the reasons you mention. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. I loved this book, too! Thanks for reminding me of this gem :)


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