Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood
Authors: James Baldwin and Yoran Cazac
Published August 27, 2018 by Duke University Press
Summary: Four-year-old TJ spends his days on his lively Harlem block playing with his best friends WT and Blinky and running errands for neighbors. As he comes of age as a “Little Man” with big dreams, TJ faces a world of grown-up adventures and realities. Baldwin’s only children’s book, Little Man, Little Man celebrates and explores the challenges and joys of black childhood.
Now available for the first time in forty years, this new edition of Little Man, Little Man—which retains the charming original illustrations by French artist Yoran Cazac—includes a foreword by Baldwin’s nephew Tejan “TJ” Karefa-Smart and an afterword by his niece Aisha Karefa-Smart, with an introduction by two Baldwin scholars. In it we not only see life in 1970s Harlem from a black child’s perspective, but we also gain a fuller appreciation of the genius of one of America’s greatest writers.
Ricki’s Review: When I was asked to review this book, I jumped at the opportunity. I am a huge fan of James Baldwin’s work, and I was completely unaware that this book existed! It lived up to my high expectations. The illustrations are beautiful, and the message is powerful. It is harshly realistic and difficult to read, and the book cuts deeply. It will serve as both windows and mirrors for children. This book took me to 1970s Harlem, and I am grateful for the experience. It is a must-read for fans of Baldwin, for those with interest in historical perspectives, and for those seeking a compelling story that will endure.
Kellee’s Review: In the 1970s, Harlem was a different place. TJ is 4 and roams with his friends, and we get to see his community from his point of view. Even the plot felt like his point of view as the story is very focused on events and is almost liked different episodes of his life. Although TJ is quite young, the story is anything but immature. TJ is an active participant in his community: the good and the bad. Mixed with Cazac’s slightly abstract, colorful and emotion-filled art, Baldwin’s story is overall a fascinating historical look at Harlem in the 1970s.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is certainly written for younger children, but high schoolers would also find value in a close examination of the text. We’d love to pair this book with some of Baldwin’s texts for adults. High schoolers would have rich conversations if they examined Little Man, Little Man through the lens of some of Baldwin’s other works.
Aisha Karefa-Smart, Tejan’s sister, is interviewed today on The Takeaway.
- This is a book that has been reprinted from several decades ago. How does the book feel different from other picture books?
- What did you learn about 1970s Harlem?
- What did you notice about the phrasing of the book? How does this support your reading?
- What is the mood of the text?
- What lessons did you learn?
Flagged Passage: “Music all up and down this street, TJ runs it every day” (p. 2-3).
Book Trailer (Tejan [the character “TJ” is modeled after him] narrates it!):
Read This If You Love: Books by James Baldwin, Matt de la Peña, Coe Booth, Nikki Grimes, or Jacqueline Woodson
**Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review!**