The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem's Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (Book Review)
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Vaunda Micheaux Nelson has an "itch" to scratch
She knows exactly what makes a good book. Aside from her current gig as a youth services librarian, she has also worked as a bookseller and a teacher. She has written numerous children's books and has won a Coretta Scott King Honor award.
The love of books runs in her family, as she is the great-niece of the famed Harlem bookseller, Lewis Micheaux. He owned and operated The National Memorial African Bookstore of Harlem, the place for Black literature and culture. In 2011, Micheaux-Nelson published the young adult, historical fiction novel, No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller. But she wasn't done there.
She wanted to be able to share this story with a younger audience, so in 2015, she published The Book Itch. It's a picture book written from Lewis Micheaux Jr's point of view, the son of the famous bookstore owner.
Jr. recounts some of the most amazing times at the store, like meeting famous people or reading books by Black authors. He saw his father as a poet and the bookstore as his second home, fondly called "The House of Common Sense and the Home of Proper Propaganda". This day-in-the-life storybook is packed with love and adornment of Black literary arts.
Proud parent moment: Jr. mentions how the bank would not loan his father money because "black people don't read." My 6-year-old made the most horrible face. "Mom, that's not true. We do read books, I love to read."
I loved this book. I hadn't heard anything about it, but any book about a Black store is worth learning about. And not just any Black bookstore, THE Black bookstore. The National Memorial African Bookstore of Harlem. That would have been a sight to see but sadly it closed in the 1970s. The way they speak of books is joyous and normalizing. Micheaux Sr. believed in books for Black people so much that he started by selling them on the street until he could afford a store.
The illustration style conveys the grittiness of Harlem with the warmth of a bookish love. Almost every page has a yellowish hue that reminds me of the sunset. The Black faces are really combinations of golds, browns, grays, and blues. You can feel the energy of the Micheaux family jump right off the page.
The story is engaging and timely. It's a fun mix of history, suspense, and a sense of community. It embraces the beauty of Blackness and how books can enhance that beauty when we give books to children. I've added this as one of my favorites and I would highly recommend adding this book to your home library.
This book connected with my children because of their love of books. What have you read that gave you the itch?