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No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  1,259 Ratings  ·  239 Reviews
Coretta Scott King award-winning author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson's great uncle was Lewis Micheaux, owner of the famous National Memorial African Bookstore. Located in the heart of Harlem, New York, from 1939 to 1975, Micheaux's bookstore became the epicenter of black literary life and a rallying point for the Black Nationalist movement. Some of its famous and most loyal ...more
Hardcover, 188 pages
Published February 1st 2012 by Carolrhoda Books (first published December 29th 2011)
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26th out of 113 books — 1,226 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jan 29, 2015 Diane rated it really liked it
This is a biographical novel about Lewis Michaux, who was an influential bookseller in Harlem. It was called a "documentary" novel because it includes real documents, such as photographs and newspaper clippings, and then the author wrote the narrative based on her research about Lewis, who was her great-uncle. It's geared toward YA, but I think it has crossover appeal for adults.

Lewis wanted to encourage blacks to read more about their history, so he started selling books by blacks and for black
Aug 17, 2012 Samuel rated it it was ok
Shelves: children
It's a problem that I suppose every reviewer -- maybe even every reader -- experiences at some point. What happens when your take on a book is starkly, radically different from the consensus? How does that change the way you approach your discussions of it?

As I read No Crystal Stair, I have to confess that I didn't find it very effective. Vaunda Micheaux Nelson is on the record as saying that she initially conceived of the book as a pure biography of Harlem bookseller Lewis Michaux, but was unab
Barb Middleton
Nov 18, 2012 Barb Middleton rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical
This interesting twine of factual and fictional material brings to life the charismatic bookseller Lewis Michaux who pushed for education and literacy in the Harlem community. He believed that the power of knowledge that came from reading would move blacks from being victims of injustice to educated citizens producing leaders in the community. He created an institution with his bookstore that not only sold books "for black people, [books] by black people, books about black people here and all ...more
Amy Sherman
Feb 15, 2013 Amy Sherman rated it liked it
Shelves: ya-lit-reviewed
What is there to like?
The subject, Lewis Michaux, and the role he and his bookstore played in the civil rights movement and 20th-century black culture and history are well worth learning about, and this book does a fine job of bringing greater attention to Michaux's work, presenting it in an easy-to-read package. The inclusion of federal documents, newspaper clippings, and photographs from the time are an interesting glimpse through history, and bring it to life.

What's not to like?
Considered as
May 14, 2012 Wendy rated it really liked it
Almost a five-star and maybe it ought to be. This is a compelling book and a challenging one; it is black literature through and through, reminding me of books from what I vaguely think of as a heyday for black-focused children's literature in the seventies, when four of the ten Newbery winners (plus some scattered Honors) had African American authors and/or themes and/or characters, when I met far more black characters in the pages of my school readers than I did in real life in southeast ...more
Feb 13, 2012 Dolores rated it it was amazing
There are a lot of them out there. Everyman heroes--men who accomplish great things; inspire and touch lives. They frequently do so with no fanfare or spotlight. This is the story of one such man. I really enjoyed reading about Lewis Michaux, who had a bit of a rocky start in life, but who eventually found his niche selling books. In Harlem. Where people told him books were not exactly a high-demand item. But for nearly forty years his bookstore was the "third place" of Harlem, a center of ...more
Jun 30, 2012 Jamie rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jamie by:
Not quite a true biography, but rather a fictionalizes one. I found this book fascinating, and I think teens would too. Mr. Michaux was not perfect, in fact, much like Malcolm X, he started out as a bit of a criminal. But upon moving to Harlem, he determined that the best thing to uplift the race was to open a bookstore. Starting with only 5 books, the store grew to be the largest African American bookstore, and a real hub of African American literary world.

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson was his great n
I guess documentary novel (in the subtitle) about covers it. Fascinating look at the life of Lewis Michaux, who ran an extremely influential bookstore in Harlem for more than 3 decades. I love that this was written by his great-niece (the granddaughter of his brother Norris). I read part of it a couple of months ago and it took me a long time to get back to it, but when I finally picked it back up, I had a hard time putting it down. Also, the other 3 people in my family all enjoyed this, too.

4.5 stars!

If you're an experienced reader, you can often guess the whole plot of books just by reading the summary. In this case, I thought I knew exactly what NO CRYSTAL STAIR was about from the very start - another "I-accomplished-my-dream-despite-all-odds" book. Nope! Vaunda Micheaux Nelson is too smart for that!

This book has a most interesting narrative: Characters take turns telling their stories in short "accounts," as if they're personally talking to you. It's a very intimate and effectiv
Monica Edinger
Mar 26, 2012 Monica Edinger rated it it was amazing
Outstanding. To say this is the story of a Harlem bookseller is true, but not only was Michaux and his bookstore clearly hugely influential, but through him the author gives readers a riveting history of the time in which he lived. Fictionalized, but closely and carefully researched, this is an amazing work. Highly, highly recommended. My blog review.
Paul  Hankins
Early prediction: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson's title will be short-listed for the Coretta Scott King Award for 2012.

Aside from the authentic voices that come out in this book, No Crystal Stair serves as a super example of what a non-fiction, illustrated text could look like within the Common Core State Standards.
Mar 24, 2012 G. rated it it was amazing
Amazing book about a bookstore like no other. Brilliantly conceived, this documentary novel surprised and enlightened me. A wonderful way to capture a long lost time and place, Lewis Michaux's Harlem bookstore, its hero of an owner, and the importance of books and booksellers! Check it out.
Lady Lioness
I am currently sitting in the dark as Hurricane Sandy has, like I predicted, knocked out our electricity. Since we were without power for several days after Irene, I'm not writing to capture my thoughts and instead put pen to paper. How old fashioned am I?

No Crystal Stair came to my attention via the Stars so Far list. As I was a bookseller for Borders for nearly ten years before the chain went under, I am always drawn to books about the industry. No Crystal Stair is not a book about the busines
Michelle Pegram
This informational book tells the story of Lewis Michaux, the proprietor of the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem. Michaux started the book store with 5 books, a small stake, and the belief that what black people lacked most was a knowledge of their own history and culture. One banker, when turning Michaux down for a loan, told him he should sell fried chicken because black people did not, and would not, read. Michaux's store became a center for cultural knowledge, conversation and ...more
Jan 21, 2013 Renee rated it it was amazing
Summary: In this work of historical fiction, Nelson tells the story of a man with a passion for knowledge and of a bookstore whose influence has become legendary.

This was a book that I didn't want to put down. It was very interesting. The author writes this book about her great uncle trying to find out as much as possible about Lewis Michaux, a man who opened a bookstore in Harlem to black people with books, artifacts, pictures, and other items so that black people could read material by black a

this book will become a regular gift to give. biography of an african american bookseller in harlem (and also his family, one of which was a famous black preacher).

there are stories of kids reading langston hughes and paul dunbar for the first time, stories of dr. king and malcolm x. there is even a paragraph by ashley bryan(!) i can't praise this book enough, belongs in every library and bookstore in america.
and to be read by anyone wanting a great history of bookselling, african amer
Nov 09, 2012 Heidi rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2012
The author is the great-niece of Lewis Michaux, legendary bookseller of Harlem; she tells the story using written and audio interviews with Michaux, family mementos, and interviews with people who knew the man. Because not all information could be verified or learned, she added her own suppositions to the story. The final product is then a work of fiction which she fully acknowledges. Michaux started with five books and a desire to educate his Harlem neighbors using books "by and about black ...more
Judi Paradis
Sep 27, 2012 Judi Paradis rated it really liked it
I have a new hero. Lewis Michaux knew that knowledge was power and set out to empower the African-American community by opening the first bookstore in the United States that sold books by and about African-Americans. His store, opening in New York's Harlem neighborhood in the 1930s, became a gathering place for Black intellectuals. He was friends with a number of important writers and political leaders, including Malcolm X, who often stayed in his store reading all night long. Many in the Civil ...more
Laura Gardner
Jun 11, 2012 Laura Gardner rated it really liked it
Shelves: ya, nonfic, graphic

Very cool book about a Harlem bookseller who transformed many young African Americans into readers and influenced many black leaders. I loved the style of this book...newspaper articles and photographs were interspersed with imagined musings of characters surrounding Lewis Michaux. Young readers of this book will learn about Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, MLK and others all from a very unique perspective.
Simply outstanding!
The vision and success of Lewis Michaux and his legendary Harlem bookstore make for tremendous reading. A bookstore in name only, his establishment was the hub for Malcolm X and other Black civil rights leaders. The bookstore also spawned generations with a foundation of black history that previous to Michaux had rarely if ever been available to the masses. Fantastic effort!
Feb 22, 2013 Mary rated it it was amazing
For all who are interested in books, culture, black history, biographies, inspirational figures, and history-you-haven't-heard-of. Written in conversational style appropriate to the style of its subject.
All librarians should read this to remind themselves how important and potentially powerful they are.
Edward Sullivan
Apr 06, 2012 Edward Sullivan rated it it was amazing
A fascinating portrait of the pioneering and influential Harlem bookseller and literacy advocate in a wonderful mix of biography and fiction.
Jan 24, 2013 Kathy rated it it was amazing
"And the books. The books. They're still here but, without you, when I open them, the pages seem blank."

Karol K
Feb 22, 2012 Karol K rated it it was amazing
I can't wait to read this and have been waiting a long time to see something in print about my Uncle. He was a great person, mentor of many and humble. Published today Jan 28th, 2012.
Nov 21, 2013 Amanda rated it liked it
No Crystal Stair details the life and times of Lewis Michaux. Michaux was one of the first people to open a bookstore based around literature written by and written about African-Americans. Though many of the dates in Michaux’s life are somewhat of a mystery, he was believed to have been born in 1895 and thus suffered the many injustices endured by African-Americans during that time. The beginning of the story tells of a time when Michaux was still a child and he was caught stealing a sack of ...more
Dec 02, 2014 Terri rated it really liked it
I have been on an interesting journey, beginning with the reading of National Book Award finalist, "Revolution" by Deborah Wiles, which I thought was tremendous. I followed this with reading National Book Award winner "Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson. Both deal with the Civil Rights era - from differing perspectives. As I prepared my most recent student booktalks, I noted that with the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, many excellent books were being published on the subject. ...more
Richie Partington
Oct 30, 2012 Richie Partington rated it it was amazing
Richie’s Picks: NO CRYSTAL STAIR: A DOCUMENTARY NOVEL OF THE LIFE AND WORK OF LEWIS MICHAUX, HARLEM BOOKSELLER by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and R. Gregory Christie, ill., Carolrhoda LAB, February 2012. ISBN: 978-0-7613-6169-5

1909, LEWIS:
“I tried to make some money picking berries. The farmer man was paying two cents a quart, and the best you could pick was ten quarts a day. Twenty cents worth.
“There were about a hundred kids picking. That fat white man, with his great big hat on, set up under a wi
No Crystal Stair is lined up as a sort of epistolary novel, that switches between various points of view to give a biography of Michaux. While the story itself lies between fiction and nonfiction - both documenting Michaux's life and venturing guesses on his thoughts/emotions - it does a wonderful job of sewing together Nelson's research on her great uncle. The Author's Note on her research is especially interesting.

For younger readers, Nelsons "The Book Itch" is a personal favorite.
Apr 28, 2012 Ashley rated it really liked it
This is a very special book, and not just because it received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews calling it "a stirring and thought-provoking account of an unsung figure in 20th-century American history." In these pages, Lewis Michaux emerges as both a flawed human being living in difficult times and as a player in some of the most important events of African-American and American life over 30 years.

As a novel "in documents," No Crystal Stair weaves together actual materials (articles, FBI fil
Dec 21, 2011 Angela rated it liked it
This review will also be posted at Mostly Reading YA.

I received an ARC of NO CRYSTAL STAIR from its publisher. This review refers to that version of the book.

First and foremost, I must say a few things about me, as a reader: I am infatuated with some of the words of two writers of the Harlem Renaissance – Langston Hughes and James Baldwin. So, when I received a small parcel from Lerner and saw the title of this one, I was instantly interested, because the title is a reference to one of Hughes’
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Vaunda Micheaux Nelson loves bringing books and children together and feels lucky to have two careers that foster this. The children's librarian and author says, "It was destined from the day I was born. My mother found my name in a novel she was reading."

Vaunda's first book, Always Gramma, was selected by the Children's Book Council as a Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studie
More about Vaunda Micheaux Nelson...

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“Everybody keeps saying be satisfied with Jesus's love, and he will give us our daily bread. I keep waiting, but we never get any bread, so I have to go out and do things for myself.” 6 likes
“A person has to have confidence in what he's going to do. If he don't, he's not going to do it long. He has to have confidence first in his idea and next in himself.
Two men have different ideas and they go to work on them. Now the first fella's idea may come up soon. Your may linger a long, long time, but any idea, if it's well done, will come up in its own time.
You can plant five seeds at the same moment - tomato, potato, cabbage, lettuce, beets - place them at the same moment. ANd they all don't come up at the same time. If the beet would get discouraged because the cabbage come up in front of him, then there wouldn't be no beets. And if the cabbage would get discouraged because the tomato come up before his program, then there wouldn't be no cabbage.
Now the evidence of a test that's gonna come in your time of doing is the sacrifice. Hungry - that's in the making of the program. Broke - that's in the making of the program. All these things will discourage you. But you can't let them discourage you.
I believed that I would do a thing, and I went to work doin' it.
-Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller”
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