Picture Books Featuring Langston Hughes' Poetry

The past couple of months we have been enjoying the poetry of Langston Hughes. Here are some of our favorite picture books featuring his poetry.

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By far my favorite book of Langston Hughes' poetry is The Dream Keeper and other poems illustrated by Brian Pinkney. This volume is one of my all-time favorite poetry books to share with children. The poems are wonderfully accessible to children, and the woodcut illustrations are fantastic. We read one or more poems of this book every day until it was finished. We have had many favorites, including "The Negro Dancers." We've all had it's delightful swinging language stuck in our heads for weeks now. After arguing a bit amongst ourselves about how best to read it, we benefited from listening to it read aloud by Margaret Walker..

Note that you can also find recordings of Langston Hughes reading many of his own poems. You can find them on AmazonYouTube, and Spotify. There is, in fact, an album called The Dream Keepers, that features Langston Hughes reciting most but not all of the poetry from the collection (not "The Negro Dancers," for example).

We memorized "Winter Moon," "Dreams," and "April Rain Song." I also memorized "Long Trip" because I love it so much: "The sea is a wilderness of waves,/ A desert of water." I had a wonderful conversation with my kids about how the sea could be like the desert, and what an interesting and startling pairing that is, after reading this poem. Another favorite I chose to copy into my own reading journal is "Snail." The second stanza:
Weather and rose
Is all you see,
The dewdrop's Mystery.
There are many wonderfully illustrated books of single poems. The paintings by E.B. White add so much to a child's understanding of The Negro Speaks of Rivers, which references the Euphrates, Nile, and Mississippi Rivers. The photographs of the picture book My People celebrate the many tones and colors of the skin of African-Americans. Another poem that we enjoyed reading as a picture book is I, Too, Am America.

Sail Away is another child-friendly collection of Hughes' verse, with many short charming poems not found in The Dream Keepers. I also thought it would be nice to read some of the poetry of other African-American poets, so we have been reading one or two poems each day from African American Poetry. This collection features more than 25 African-American poets from Revolutionary Times (the slave Phillis Wheatley) to several living poets. Each poem is accompanied by some biographical information about the poet as well as notes on the meaning of the poem. I love this entire series (Poetry for Young People), which in fact includes a volume on Langston Hughes. But I think the poems in The Dream Keeper and Sail Away are more accessible for elementary-aged kids.

Finally, I happened upon the picture book In Her Hands in the Black History display at the library. It tells the story of sculptor Augusta Savage, who was an important figure of the Harlem Renaissance, like Langston Hughes. I thought it was nice to pair a female artist from the same period and movement with Langston Hughes, and this is an inspirational story of following one's dream with lovely painted illustrations. It has a lot of text, but my 6yo made it through because it is a pretty compelling and suspenseful story.

Langston Hughes was always one of my favorite poets to share with my students when I taught elementary school, and it has been a pleasure to introduce him to my own children.

Here are links to all our favorite picture book read-alouds by subject: 


  1. In Her Hands is on hold for me at the library! It's a part of our Spring reading!


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