Stories in Rhythm. Operatic vernacular. Poetry with a beat. Call and Response. One part story and one part rhythm. These are some of the terms the poet Nikki Giovanni uses to describe Hip Hop in her marvelous introduction to this astounding and beautiful book, Hip Hop Speaks to Children.
Really? Opera? Read on, because Giovanni enlightens, gives us the history and a story in her unique and always poetic voice. As I read her introduction, I was wowed and started making comparisons to the Italian opera that I love and found her to be dead on the money right. Hip Hop does compare. It took several minutes to process her introduction and get on to the poetry in the book because I just had to absorb it and let it sink in. It did and I smiled and turned the page.
One of the things that struck me about this book is the artwork. The illustrations are beautiful, each with a different flavor as it’s illustrated by a variety of artists. Each illustration richly fits and contributes to the poem without competing or detracting from the message. It’s very well done and when I thought of the care in selection and the time it must have taken, I was further impressed.
I read the book first; the poetry without the accompanying CD. I wanted to get a feel for the beat of the rhythm without it. I enjoyed each poem tremendously and then re-read with the CD playing. Wow. A Tribe Called Quest reading “Ham ‘N Eggs”, Gary Soto reading his own poem “Music for Fun and Profit”, Ms. Giovanni reading “The Girls in the Circle”, Kanye West reading “Hey Mama”, Queen Latifah performing “From Ladies First”, Mos Def – “From Umi Says”, readings from Langston Hughes, Eloise Greenfield, Common, Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lauryn Hill performing “Everything is Everything”, the list goes on and on.
This is an incredibly powerful, beautiful and important book. Both the book and CD are stellar in quality and diversity. The artwork is amazing and I find myself pulling it out of the shelf over and over for just one more re-read. The grandchildren (ages 3 and 5) love it as well and ask to hear the CD while they pore over the pages and take breaks prancing around the room and singing to the beat. They KNOW all the poems in the book and learned them in a relatively short time, which I attribute to the power of the beat, and all the artists; the poets, the illustrators, the singers and spoken word artists. What an astounding thing when a book moves children so that they LEARN – quickly and enjoyably. This book is for all ages and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
More about the book: Listen to Nikki Giovanni’s passion for it here. Listen to Nikki Giovanni read The Girls in the Circle here. Listen to A Tribe Called Quest perform Ham ‘n Eggs here. View a page of the book here.