The Harlem Renaissance is the name for the early twentieth-century African-American Cultural Revolution centered in Harlem, in New York City. The years between the world wars saw a gathering of talent in New York that led to an outpouring of music, visual and performing art, athletics and literature from the black community. Harlem Renaissance Party introduces this important time in American history to young readers as young Lonnie and his Uncle Bates travel back in time to meet the important people who participated in this movement. They meet W.E.B Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, and Lonnie’s longtime hero, Langston Hughes, as well as other greats who Lonnie learns about as he dines and dances with them. When he finally has to return home, he is proud to be black like them, and inspired to be a great leader like those he met.
“‘Yes,’ said Dr. Du Bois. ‘We black folk had a new desire to create as though we had just awakened from a deep, deep sleep.'”
Faith Ringgold’s book is a great introduction to this era and to these important African-American cultural leaders, and the illustrations are bright and vibrant. Ringgold captures the vibrancy and excitement of the movement as well as explaining why it was such an important force for moving toward better racial equality. It is a good book overall, but I found the portrayal of Lonnie very confusing; he is white, with red hair; his uncle and everyone else around him is black; perhaps the message is that the Harlem Renaissance is for everyone? That message would have been more clear if other races and ethnicities were also represented enjoying and appreciating the celebration (Lonnie is the only non-black person in the book). However, the book is colorful and exciting with a good message, and will be appreciated by older elementary students just learning about this movement and era.