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

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  775 ratings  ·  207 reviews
Coretta Scott King award-winning author Vaunda Micheaux Nelsons 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, Micheauxs bookstore became the epicenter of black literary life and a rallying point for the Black Nationalist movement. Some of its famous and most loyal patron...more
Hardcover, 188 pages
Published February 1st 2012 by Carolrhoda Books (first published December 29th 2011)
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Newbery 2013
21st out of 119 books — 1,086 voters
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Mock Printz 2013
48th out of 92 books — 468 voters

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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...more
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...more
Amy Sherman
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...more
Barb Middleton
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 ar...more
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 Portl...more
Jun 16, 2012 elissa rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to elissa by:
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.

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 cultu...more
Jun 30, 2012 Jamie rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
Monica Edinger
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.
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 e...more
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.
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...more
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...more

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...more
Doctor Sax
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!
Judi Paradis
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

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.
The title is from a Langston Hughes poem.
"Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And Splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with not carpet on the floor --
But all the time I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So, boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it kinder hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I was so impressed with this book and horrified that I had no knowledge of this incredible man. I came away wishing I had been one of the lucky people to sit in the back room and explore the wealth collected there. Nelson did an outstanding job of giving me a sense of Michaux as a person, his passion and commitment.
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.
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.
A truly fascinating approach to the biography genre. This is a "documentary" book, meaning it is a biography of Lewis Michaux as told through a rotating cast of characters--his brothers, nephew, wives, the FBI files, customers, his parents, and Lewis himself.

I was fascinated by his life and his influence and loved the overt Nationalistic overtones of Lewis' politics. I also loved that his work in Harlem--his dedication to bringing Black history and literature to the people--fits in so well with...more
This was a mason jar pick. Not sure how it ended up in there (People magazine review of books? If so, go People magazine!) but very glad it did. Would never have picked it up based on the cover/size/a flip through - definitely looks like a very young read - but am very grateful to have read it. Sometimes you can learn a lot from a book for a young audience, and I definitely learned a lot from this one! Lewis Michaux was an incredible character, right up there with Sonya and Julia in terms of ins...more
Karol K
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.
Edward Sullivan
A fascinating portrait of the pioneering and influential Harlem bookseller and literacy advocate in a wonderful mix of biography and fiction.
"And the books. The books. They're still here but, without you, when I open them, the pages seem blank."

The research and the themes are great. But while kids who enjoy biographies for their own sake might get into this, I don't see broad appeal. Many kid readers won't know the historical figures involved or be able to understand the context for changing political philosophy among African-American leaders. The voices aren't strongly differentiated and come across as fairly formal; if I'm hearing first-person narratives I want immediacy, unfiltered emotions, messy motivations and feelngs revealed. W...more
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...more
Brandy Painter
Originally posted at Randoom Musings of a Bibliophile.

No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson won this year's Horn Book Award for Children's Fiction. I can understand why. It is a unique and original book in so many ways. Format. Content. Genre. It is also a fascinating story.

"My life was no crystal stair, far from it. But I'm taking my leave with some pride. It tickles me to know that those folks who said I could n...more
Annie Oosterwyk
I was compelled to read this book because it beat out my two favorite books last year to win the SLJ Battle of the Books and I just couldn't imagine how. SLJ Battle of the Books
Well, it WAS good, but I agree with Frank Cotrell Boyce that it was too difficult a decision. All three books were just too good and too different to make a fair choice.
So, this was a fantastic documentary novel about Lewis Michaux, the owner of the National Memorial African Bookstore, a store that sold only books writte...more
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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
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