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BOOKS: Poetry and history combine for a very special experience

Charles R. Smith Jr. had mixed feelings about Black History Month. Although he was proud of his culture, he didn't like the idea of ignoring black history for the other 11 months of the year.

This book serves as a poetic introduction of important black newsmakers.
This book serves as a poetic introduction of important black newsmakers.

Charles R. Smith Jr. had mixed feelings about Black History Month. Although he was proud of his culture, he didn't like the idea of ignoring black history for the other 11 months of the year.

As an author, he wanted to change this. He also wanted to bring history alive.

In "28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World," Smith features an amazing collection of people.

They include Daniel Hale Williams, who in 1893 successfully performed the first heart operation; Shirley Chisholm, who in 1972 became a presidential candidate; and Nelson Mandela, who in 1994 was inaugurated as the first black president of South Africa.

But it's not just the people who make this book special. It's also the format.

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Below the "headline" on each page, Smith includes a poem, a eulogy or a direct quote from a primary source. He also includes a short paragraph of detailed information.

His poetry is far from ordinary.

When featuring tennis stars Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe, he reveals their actions in a tandem poem. When writing about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he uses remarkable repetition of the words "They came."

His creative prose stands out, too. When telling readers about space shuttle astronauts Guion "Guy" Bluford and Mae Jemison, he structures his information around the numbers of a countdown.

Meanwhile, the illustrations of Shane W. Evans accurately depict the physical postures of each person, often bringing attention to hands and arms.

"28 Days" culminates with the inauguration of President Obama on January 20, 2009. In the accompanying poem, Smith suggests that the actions of each person in this book contributed to his victory.

No doubt, the poem about President Obama will raise discussion. In the meantime, the entire book is excellent for elementary and middle school students who are curious about history and eager to experiment with unique poetic techniques.

"28 Days: Moments in Black History That Changed the World." By Charles R. Smith, Jr. Illustrated by Shane W. Evans. Roaring Book Press, 2015. 56 pp.

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