Throughout his long career as a poet, fiction writer, and chronicler of the situation of blacks throughout the world, Langston Hughes also wrote books for children. Whether fiction, poetry, or nonfiction, these works are true literature into which he put much research, thought, creative energy, and love. His young readers then and now can sense that they are just as important as his adult audience, while adult readers can appreciate the skill of a great writer able to speak to readers of all ages.
Beginning with four pieces Hughes published in The Brownies' Book, a magazine for black children edited by W. E. B. Du Bois and Jessie Fauset, this volume also includes two works first published in 1932: Popo and Fifina, a story of two children living in Haiti, which Hughes wrote with Arna Bontemps, and The Dream Keeper and Other Poems, a collection Hughes chose explicitly for young people.
In The First Book of Negroes, The First Book of Rhythms, The First Book of Jazz, The First Book of the West Indies, and The First Book of Africa, all originally published between 1952 and 1960, Hughes hits just the right tone, presenting the history of Africans throughout the world without being condescending or simplistic. It is clear that, for Hughes, Africans and African cultures contribute to a world culture and a world community.
Also included in this essential volume are a number of uncollected poems for children; the captions Hughes wrote for Black Misery, which he completed just before his death in 1967; as well as several books published posthumously, The Sweet and Sour Animal Book and The Pasteboard Bandit, the latter also written with Arna Bontemps.
Hughes's books for children remain entertaining, moving, beautiful, and relevant. For scholars of African American literature and history and for readers of all ages, these are works to be enjoyed and to be taken seriously.