Wendy's Reviews > No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller

No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
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May 14, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: 2012-award-possibilities
Read in May, 2012

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 Portland. (Well, I wasn't reading them in the seventies, of course, but they were seventies-era.) I'm a guest to this book, and a welcome one, but not part of the in-crowd. It's a tantalizing visit. I didn't know what the book was going to be about, and then when I started it I thought it was going to be about one thing (I expected it to be sort of easier and more familiar, with references to Harlem Renaissance figures and later plenty of Martin Luther King Jr) and then it turned out to be something else.

The writing is simple and straightforward. The author steps aside (with great skill) to let the facts, as well as the words (real or imagined) of the characters create the drama.

The illustrations complement both the subject and the tone of the book perfectly.

The only thing I might have wished is that it was clearer that quoted "news articles" were fictional, by a fictional journalist; they are interspersed throughout the narrative along with actual quotes from Michaux's FBI file, which is a little confusing. I see in the back that it looks like this book is impeccably documented, especially considering that it is upfront about being fictionalized biography, but while reading I wasn't quite sure what was happening.

Certainly one for Newbery consideration, although it won't win any points from the populist-Newbery crowd.
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10/18/2016 marked as: read

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Wendy You know, people who think the Newbery should be something that's appealing to the majority of kids as pleasure reading.


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