Tuesday, March 3, 2009

REVIEW: The Blacker the Berry

Thomas, J.C. (2008). The Blacker the Berry. New York: Joanna Cotler Books.


The Blacker the Berry features twelve poems written by Joyce Carol Thomas complimenting different shades of skin color and connecting those colors with similes and metaphors of foods—mostly berries.

While the actual content of the picturebook is far from tense, there is building in the sense that the final poem incorporates all of the children previously described.

Issues explored through the poems include the ideas of ‘passing’ as white, ethnic identity, connection to the past, ways of peacefully resisting negative perceptions, etc. All of these could become points to discuss with a class.

This picturebook won the Coretta Scott King Award this year for the illustrations. The pictures feature African American children with a range of skin tones in natural environments, doing a number of activities, almost always smiling. The picturebook naturalizes blackness and presents as many different skin tones as possible positively.

Activities to do with the book:

Children could write poems about their own skin color and that of their friends and loved ones and create illustrations to accompany them. A lighter writing option could be to write about favorite foods and how people resemble them in physical characteristics and personality.

A teacher can also use these poems for examples of images and metaphors.

Students could also discuss the issues presented by the poems in class or small groups as well as offer their own narratives triggered by those discussions.

Favorite Quotes:

“Day couldn’t dawn without the night
Colors, without black, couldn’t sparkle
quite so bright”

“It feels absolutely fabulous
To be this brown
Anyway, I refuse to walk too long in shadow”

“We are color struck
The way an artist strikes
His canvas with his brush of many hues”

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