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Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

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Where is our historian to give us our side, Arturo asked, to teach our people our own history?

Amid the scholars, poets, authors, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance stood an Afro-Puerto Rican man named Arturo Schomburg. His life's passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora in order to bring to light the achievements of people of African descent. When his collection became so large that it threatened to overflow his house, he turned to the New York Public Library.

At the time, the collection, with Schomburg as curator, was the cornerstone of a new Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints. A century later, it is the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture—and a beacon for scholars all over the world.

In luminous paintings and arresting poems, two of children's literature's foremost African-American scholars track the journey of Arturo Schomburg and his quest to correct and expand the historical record for generations to come.

44 pages, Hardcover

First published September 12, 2017

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About the author

Carole Boston Weatherford

83 books344 followers
Carole Boston Weatherford is a children's book author and poet who "mines the past for family stories, fading traditions, and forgotten struggles." A number of Weatherford's books tell the stories of African-American historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, Jesse Owens, and Billie Holiday. Other books recount historical events such as the Greensboro Sit-ins and the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Weatherford's books have received a wide variety of awards, including a Caldecott Honor for Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 330 reviews
Profile Image for ij.
216 reviews177 followers
February 14, 2021
A picture book biography of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Eric Velasquez.

Arturo was born in Puerto Rico in 1874. He was the son of a freeborn black midwife and a German immigrant. He was educated in Puerto Rico and immigrated to the U. S., in 1891. He loved history and refused to believe his former teachers that black people had done nothing worthy of being included is history books. He became a book and art collector to substantiate his belief.

This book covers many of his discoveries and his personal life. Schomburg's collection later became the foundation for New York city's Center for Reserch in Black Culture which in named for him. The center in part of city's public library system and is renowned world-wide for its collection.

The book is for children 8-12.

Black History Month Read
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,057 reviews13 followers
September 22, 2017
Beautifully illustrated but of questionable accuracy, this brief middle-grade illustrated book uses Arturo (Arthur) Schomburg's biography and passion for academic study of Africana to uncover quieted names in world history. While the structure is unique, the writing is engaging and sound, and the artwork is flat-out gorgeous, there are factual points that are concerning. John James Audubon's mother was a French woman from Nance who had been working as a servant in the Audubon household, and was NOT of Creole origin, which has been extensively documented. Also, Beethoven's mother was Flemish (which has historical ties with Spanish Moors), although no mention has been made of his being of African blood by contemporary sources, which would have been made mention in the culturally liberal Vienna, especially by his erstwhile (African-European) friend George Bridgetower. I'm a fan of presenting lesser-known histories to children and adults, and I'm also a fan of using documented truths to do so. This book fails in the latter.
All the same, it is an inspirational story of how a person can come from beleaguered circumstances and, through curiosity, cunning and perseverance, can make a global, historical and cultural impact that carries on for generations.
Profile Image for Edward Sullivan.
Author 5 books203 followers
August 27, 2017
I love the subject matter so I wish the narrative here were better executed. Weatherford's choice to introduce famous African Americans detracts from Schomberg's story and the whole narrative seems rather text heavy for a picture book biography.
Profile Image for Morris.
964 reviews164 followers
November 11, 2019
This is a fascinating biography that makes excellent use of illustrations and verse. Mr. Schomburg, while the subject, is only one of the people covered. There are many other figures from black history, along with works of art and The Harlem Renaissance. I cannot recommend this one enough.

This unbiased review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.
Profile Image for Tia.
785 reviews261 followers
January 28, 2021
A must read!

I was wowed by this book! I learned information that I'd never heard of before. How is that possible? This a book for every person. The art is beautiful. This book has left me wanting to know more about African history that has been hidden and denied.
Profile Image for Kirsten.
2,131 reviews91 followers
November 7, 2017
This verse biography of Arturo Schomburg is intended for children and teens, but I absolutely recommend it to everyone. Weatherford poetically and succinctly tells the life story and accomplishments of this truly remarkable individual. Schomburg was an Afro-Puerto Rican book collector whose work to unearth literature and artwork from African and the African diaspora formed the backbone for the Harlem Renaissance and for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. I didn't know anything about him, and I found his story thrilling and inspiring. Pura Belpre award winner Eric Velasquez illustrates with gorgeous paintings of Schomburg and his family, as well as of his research subjects. This is a must-buy for every library collection that serves youth, and a must-read for everyone who needs an introduction to the life and work of this man.
Profile Image for Summer.
1,414 reviews15 followers
May 31, 2021
“A book is like a garden carried in a pocket.”

This was a great book! Of course I was interested; someone building a library!? I’m in. I loved Arthur’s mind, the way he thought, and his sense of wonder that he never lost. He essentially went through history books as a book detective to find African history throughout all of history. I’m looking forward to jumping into the lives of those discussed in this book. Some I already have on my shelves and others I’ll be on the look out for. I also am adding the Schomburg Center as a must see when we next go to NYC.

Profile Image for Beverly.
5,268 reviews4 followers
February 22, 2018
I was somewhat appalled that this educated gentleman organized his vast library of books by color and size, and even fired a librarian who wanted to organize them by Dewey classifications! Otherwise, an interesting story about this immigrant turned historian. Eric Velasquez's paintings are superb.
Profile Image for Krista the Krazy Kataloguer.
3,873 reviews268 followers
November 29, 2017
OMG, I wish I could have met this man! Why have I never heard of him before? His fascination with the history of African and African American people started when he was in school, after he was told that his people had no history. Imagine telling a child that! Weatherford provides examples of some of the famous Africans and African Americans that Schomburg discovered: Benjamin Banneker, Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Toussaint Louverture, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Marcus Garvey, and some I'd never heard of, such as Chevalier de Saint-Georges ("the black Mozart") and Paul Cuffee ("early American whaler, shipbuilder, and maritime trader"). He even rooted out people who were popularly known as white but who actually had African ancestry, such as John James Audubon, Alexandre Dumas, Alexander Pushkin, and Ludwig van Beethoven. Those were eye-openers for me! Immigrating from Cuba to New York City, he met the Harlem Renaissance writers and artists, and was in the perfect place to collect books, manuscripts, and art on African American history. His house was jam-packed with books, which is just the way I like it, but Schomburg's wife wasn't so happy about it. To please her, he sold his collection to the Carnegie Corporation, who donated it to the New York Public Library. So, if I wanted to peruse his fabulous collection, I can go there. What a field trip! He also added 4,000 volumes to the library at Fisk University, another field trip for me. Such priceless treasure troves of information for all of us to enjoy and learn from today! I so admire and identify with his passion for collecting books and learning about his heritage. Weatherford has done a huge service to readers today by bringing this man to our attention with her poems and Eric Velasquez's beautiful illustrations. I really must read more about this man, and about some of the people he "discovered." Highly, highly recommended!!
Profile Image for Alicia.
6,225 reviews124 followers
January 24, 2018
What a beautiful homage, though very text heavy for a picture book, about Schomburg's love of literature for the simple fact that it would build the African history that was assumed to not exist or be whitewashed. Schomburg could not tolerate the idea that African history would not be collected, shared, celebrated as it should have been.

He was tenacious in his work life and even overcame obstacles that shouldn't have been obstacles to continue to build the amazing body of work. The book celebrates his life and those of a specific African Americans who contributed to the narrative. It's essentially a small group of biographies within a larger biography.

And who doesn't LOVE the cover. If only everyone cared as much about their history as Schomburg cared about the history's history of Africans.
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,875 reviews292 followers
February 28, 2023
Arturo Schomburg was shamed as a child for wanting to learn about famous black figures in history. He resolved to find out everything he could about them and to share this knowledge with the world. He did.

This book is the mesmerizing story of a man who sought out and researched and documented black history. The illustrations show people who proudly broke barriers in the past, and they add greatly to the beautifully written story.
Profile Image for Bill.
308 reviews24 followers
August 25, 2017
Very interesting focal character. But a somewhat strange choice to use him as a means of introducing a host of African American luminaries. As a result, the text ends up more as a listing of facts and anecdotes rather than a compelling informational text that weaves a narrative.

Also, the picture book format seems not well-suited to the amount of text contained in this book. Probably would have worked better as an illustrated book.
Profile Image for  The Black Geek.
60 reviews99 followers
September 24, 2020
Excellent children's book to remind us of our enduring and significant cultural and intellectual contributions to ourselves...and the world. As Schomburg said, "History must restore what slavery took away...."
Profile Image for Gwen Bumpers.
56 reviews1 follower
September 26, 2017
While I do wish the book focused a little more on the life story of Schomburg, it is a great tool to show children the contributions that people of color made to American history.
Profile Image for Critterbee❇.
924 reviews66 followers
February 16, 2018
In-depth picture book biography of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, an intellectual, bibliophile, activist, historian, writer, curator, and protector of knowledge. The story is told in verse, with beautiful illustrations, a thorough timeline, source notes and a small bibliography.

Also, apparently he filed the books in his collection by size and color.

This is a must-have for school libraries.
Profile Image for Tasha.
4,117 reviews109 followers
November 19, 2017
This picture book biography shows the important impact one person can have when on a quest for knowledge. Schomburg was a man of Afro-Puerto Rican heritage who collected books, manuscripts, letters and more to show the achievements of people from African descent. These achievements were not in history books and not reflected in the national narrative at all. As he studied, he proved over and over again that black culture was unrepresented despite the incredible discoveries and art it contributed to the world. Schomburg’s library was eventually donated to the New York Public Library where you can visit it today. Weatherford highlights not just Schomburg’s own contribution to knowledge of black culture, but also shows other individuals that Schomburg discovered in his research. She does so via poems, some about specific people others about the books and research and many about Schomburg’s own life. The art by Velasquez is rich and beautiful, offering a dynamic visual for the fluid poetry. An important and timely read. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Profile Image for Carla.
6,144 reviews136 followers
February 13, 2022
Arturo was born in Puerto Rico in 1874. He was the son of a freeborn black midwife and a German immigrant. He was educated in Puerto Rico and immigrated to the U. S., in 1891. When he was a boy he wondered why there were no black people in the history books he read, he was told by his teachers that black people had done nothing worthy of being included is history books. He refused to believe this and when he became a working adult, he began to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora to share and highlight the achievements of people of African descent through the ages. This book briefly looks at Schomburg's life and how he built his collection. Eventually, his collection became so large that his wife gave him an ultimatum that he needed to find somewhere else for his collection. He turned to the New York Public Library, where he created and curated a collection that was the cornerstone of a new Negro Division. A century later, his groundbreaking collection, known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is one scholars from all over the world come to study.

This is a MG book, although it initially appeared to be for a younger group to me. It is written for children but is text heavy and gets bogged down. It is divided in sections based on the gathering of his collection and highlighting several famous African Americans. I think this book tried to cover too much and it lost something. The illustrations were well done and certainly added much to the story. I just wish the book had concentrated on Schomburg and not gone off on so many tangents. The back pages contain a brief timeline of Schomburg's life. There is also a list of resources and extensive source list. I recommend this book when teaching and learning about Black History.
Profile Image for Elisabeth Ensor.
675 reviews30 followers
March 28, 2022
I loved this story! It follows the like of Arturo, from a young boy in school being told that blacks have no important history in their past! This lit a spark for him to search and find literature from the past proving they did have a history and one with knowing about!!! So good, your kids will be fascinated by his life and book collection too
Profile Image for Paulette.
439 reviews2 followers
January 16, 2022
This was more informational than I thought it would be, but I did enjoy this story into Arturo Schomburg’s quest to collect and share stories about Black people throughout the previous century, especially great writers and artists.
Profile Image for Jo Oehrlein.
6,327 reviews9 followers
January 27, 2018
A picture book for an older child -- there's a LOT of text on every page and a lot to digest. Arthur Schomburg had links to many famous people of his time and he collected information about and books from many other famous people.

This is about the founding of a library of history of black people, but much more. It's about knowing that all people have a history worth remembering.
Profile Image for Linda .
3,781 reviews43 followers
December 6, 2017
I know that many are talking about this book. I feel that every teacher should share this with their middle grade and older students, or every parent should share with their even younger children, bit by bit, then researching more about those people that Schomburg learned about, those whose "works", first writing, then art, he collected during his entire life. Carole Boston Weatherford uses Arthur (born Arturo) Schomburg's own words as an opening quote: "The American Negro must remake his past in order to make his future. . . .History must restore what slavery took away."
I became angry as I read this book, so filled with bits of historical figures who were never written about in my own years-ago history textbooks. Oh, I may have heard a little about Fredrick Douglas or probably George Washington Carver, but few others, until I got to college. Yet even then, there were limits. Carole Boston Weatherford has chosen to write Schomburg's story as a timeline, telling of the first spark that made him curious and determined. A teacher told him that "Africa's sons and daughters had no history, no heroes worth noting." He did not stop searching and learning, first enthralled by an early almanac written by Benjamin Banneker, self-taught inventor, astronomer, and draftsman. The book is a sort of list, and shown beautifully with Weatherford's descriptions through the years of Schomburg's studies, are Eric Velasquez's illustrations. He shows Schomburg aging but surrounded by those very heroes and the artifacts representative of what they created, which his teacher said did not exist.
Through all the years, Schomburg's collection grew and grew. He married three times, had children, and continued searching and collecting. The end result is that his last wife threatened to leave unless something was done to move the collection somewhere else. The beginning of its fate began with The Carnegie Corporation which bought it for $10,000. and donated it to the New York City Library's Division of Negro History, Literature, and Prints. This through the years has become a new Schomburg Center which opened in 1980. There is much more I could share, but as I wrote at the beginning, everyone should read this book.
Carole Boston Weatherford has added a timeline, source notes, and a bibliography. She shares that Arturo Schomburg placed a personal nameplate in every book he collected, and there is one at the back of the book that tells what his bookplate was like, with a brief comment. It's a fitting ending.
Profile Image for Kristi Starr.
265 reviews11 followers
February 15, 2018
Schomburg: The Man Who Built A Library is a biography of Arturo Schomburg, born in Puerto Rico, immigrated to America, ardent bibliophile, and collector of materials that showcased the contributions of men and women of African heritage from around the world. We read not only about Schomburg and how he grew his collection, but what he learned about famous men and women such as Phyllis Wheatley, Benjamin Banneker, Alexander Pushkin, and Toussaint Louverture.

Schomburg eventually sold his collection to the Carnegie Corporation, who donated it to the New York Public Library. He served as the curator of the NYPL's Division of Negro History, Literature, and Prints, renamed the Schomburg Collection for Negro History, Literature and Prints in 1940, two years after his death. The collection was designated a research library and renamed the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in 1972.

Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrator Eric Velasquez have created a book full of beautiful illustrations and rich historical content. As a child, Arturo Schomburg bristled at the injustice of being able to find information about historical and literary contributions of men and women of color. Weatherford brings to our attention names both familiar and new. Schomburg would have reveled in such a book.
Profile Image for Laura.
2,770 reviews83 followers
October 21, 2019
Fascinating story of an Afro–Puerto Rican man who was told as a young boy that black people had done nothing, and so there was no history about them.

So, he set out to prove them wrong. He spent his entire life researching books and rare manuscripts about Black people in the Americas, and what they did.

His whole house was a collection of these books until he ran out of room, and sold the collection sot hat it could be housed in the Harlem branch of the New York City Library.

This is a text heavy picture book, of some of the people he found information on.

He did this work during the Harlem Renaissance, and it makes me wish that this book was a little bit more about his life, and the famous people he met in Harlem, though his research of the Black people in history is interesting as well.

A good book to add to any library.

Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review.
Profile Image for Cindy Mitchell *Kiss the Book*.
6,001 reviews193 followers
November 5, 2017
Weatherford, Carole Boston Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library Illustrated by Eric Velasquez PICTURE BOOK Candlewick Press, 2017. $16.99 Content: G.

Arturo Schomburg was told by his fifth grade teacher in Puerto Rico that Africa's people didn’t have a history. Arturo spent the rest of his life gathering art, literature and other evidences of the history and heroes of people of African decent. Arturo gathered these pieces throughout his life and eventually sold them so they could be put in a library and many others could have access to the information.

This book is well done because as we learn about Schomburg and his contributions to literature, we also learn a little about the authors and artists that he was trying to bring attention to. The illustrations are fantastic. The writing style is poetic, lengthy and has higher levels of vocabulary, so it’s not for early readers.

EL, MS – ADVISABLE. Reviewer, C. Peterson.
3,794 reviews20 followers
September 22, 2017
Beautiful and fascinating and packed with things I didn't know and should have! Schomburg's passion for books, research and the overlooked and ignored history of his people is inspiring although it must have been a challenge to live with his ever-growing collection of books! I loved the story of how he arranged his collection - by size and color of the books!

As much as I liked it, the structure of the book and the introduction of so many historical individuals makes this a more complex read and more suited to upper elementary or middle school. That said, it will take some hand selling with that group. Perhaps the best idea is to use it in the classroom first where it has a myriad of applications and then students will definitely want to read it on their own.

I loved Velasquez's illustrations which really brings Schomburg and his important story to life.

Profile Image for Lidia.
29 reviews
June 14, 2020
I found this book on the library website as a streaming video. I learned about Arturo Schomburg, a Puerto Rican bibliophile. He was told in 5th grade that no one cares about Negro history.
This book would be great for middle school because it does discuss difficult discriminations that Arturo lived through. However, they made him more determined. He collected many books about African history. He was such an in-depth scholar that he discovered that many people in history were whitewashed (only mentioned of 'white' roots and not African heritage). I learned that he believed Beethoven was a mulatto. The one thing, I was surprised by Arturo was that he didn't believe in teaching his own children his native tongue.
Profile Image for orangerful.
948 reviews47 followers
October 20, 2017
I learned so much from this brief story - a look at the life and legacy of Arthur Schomburg. His dedication to finding heroes of African descent brought to light so many great stories. I wish that more of this information was common knowledge and that his quest to bring history to light had permeated even more of American culture and schooling.

Get this into the hands of the readers who wonder why they don't see more of themselves in the history books - maybe you'll inspire the next Schomburg!
5,215 reviews73 followers
January 6, 2018
Inspirational! "The American Negro must remake his past in order to make his future....History must restore what slavery took away." Weatherford tells of Arturo's quest after being told in fifth grade that African's had no history and no heroes worth noting.
Profile Image for Erin.
3,831 reviews46 followers
January 12, 2018
For those who are concerned we are erasing our history, this book looks at what true erasure is, and how one man tried to rectify the situation. I'm not sure a biography of a researcher has any right to be this interesting, but I found it fascinating and full of information.

2018​ ​Walter​ ​Award,​ ​Younger​ ​Readers​ ​Category
Displaying 1 - 30 of 330 reviews

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