Author Lesa Cline-Ransome tells us a story that incorporates not only the life of a displaced child from rural Alabama to urban Chicago during the Great Migration (I highly commend Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of the Other Suns to learn more about the Great Migration) but also so much history, art and Black heritage within a few pages of this amazing children’s fiction, Finding Langston. She tells the story in 104 short pages to be exact, and makes me feel all the ‘feels’ as I read on.
Langston and his father were among those 7 million African American families who migrated up north from rural areas of the Southern states of USA in search of a better life during the Great Migration. After his mother’s death, Langston’s father did not have any reason to stay in Alabama. He moved up to Chicago to work at a paper mill and send his son to school in Bronzeville, Chicago. But 11 year old Langston hated the city, longed to return back to Alabama and wanted his mama back. Friendless and lonely, in their noisy little apartment, where the heat was turned on only at landlord’s whim and one had to stand in a long line to use the bathroom, Langston was extremely unhappy. He was bullied at school because of his accent, had no friends or family to love him except his father but he had always been a mama’s boy while mama was alive. Langston and his dad barely had much conversation because mama was the glue who held the family together. So father and son, thrust together due to unfortunate circumstances, struggled to find the right rhythm in their relationship. One day, while trying to escape the bullies after school, Langston found himself in an unfamiliar neighborhood and in front of the George Cleveland Hall branch library. Despite being unsure of his welcome into the institution because of his skin color, Langston ventured into the public library where the young boy was welcomed and where the librarian opened up a whole new world for him. He discovered poetry. Poetry written by his namesake, Langston Hughes, who experienced similar loneliness when he traveled north from his southern home. And he wrote about his feelings in poetry. Langston, our protagonist, found himself and his place in the world after he discovered Langston Hughes who gave words to the feelings that our hero was feeling but had no words to express them. Langston sets Langston free.
What a beautiful book this is where through Langston’s story, the author leaves crumbs of important historical events, names of prominent Black artists and activists, the great migration and the conditions of poor workers in mid 1940’s America. The story can encourage young readers to probe further and peek into the history of this time to get a better understanding of what Langston and thousands, if not millions, of children like Langston were going through as they dealt with poverty, separation from family and displacement.
I do not read too many children’s fiction and even if I do, I don’t write about them. I finished this book last night and wrote a short review right away. And I woke up this morning still thinking about Langston finding his purpose and sense in his turbulent life within the words of Langston Hughes. I am a lover of words. I am also in awe of the transformative power of words.