Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks

by Suzanne Slade (Author) Cozbi A Cabrera (Illustrator)

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks
Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) is known for her poems about "real life." She wrote about love, loneliness, family, and poverty--showing readers how just about anything could become a beautiful poem. Exquisite follows Gwendolyn from early girlhood into her adult life, showcasing her desire to write poetry from a very young age. This picture-book biography explores the intersections of race, gender, and the ubiquitous poverty of the Great Depression--all with a lyrical touch worthy of the subject. Gwendolyn Brooks was the first Black person to win the Pulitzer Prize, receiving the award for poetry in 1950. And in 1958, she was named the poet laureate of Illinois. A bold artist who from a very young age dared to dream, Brooks will inspire young readers to create poetry from their own lives.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

K-Gr 3—Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) was inspired to write poetry from an early age. When she wasn't dreaming on her back porch, she was filling notebooks with observations about nature and everyday life in her Chicago neighborhood. Themes of racial injustice, hunger, and poverty stood alongside depictions of joy and wonder in her work. Brooks dedicated her life to writing; she won contests, got published, and eventually became the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1950. The biography's awestruck, reverent tone is matched by the gorgeous acrylic paintings. Bright palettes of pink, orange, blue, and green evoke the influence of nature in Brooks's work. There is a lovely contrast between the illustrations of lush outdoor sunsets and the beautifully rendered moments that depict her home life. The only thing missing from the text is more excerpts from Brooks's poetry. Shining a spotlight on the poet's own words would have enriched the context of her life story and shown how life can influence art and vice versa. Extensive back matter includes a poem by 15-year-old Brooks titled "Clouds," an author's note, a time line, source notes, and a bibliography. VERDICT A visually remarkable and inspiring introduction to the life of Gwendolyn Brooks. Recommended for purchase in most collections.—Kristy Pasquariello, Westwood Public Library, MA

Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

In stirring free verse and resplendent acrylic paintings, these collaborators pay affecting tribute to Brooks, who, in 1950, became the first black person to receive a Pulitzer Prize. Laced with Brooks's spoken and written words, the lyrical narrative by Slade echoes the personal tenor of the subject's poetry, inspired by "the nonstop busyness, the hard-luck grittiness" of her neighborhood in Chicago's South Side. One of Brooks's poems, "Clouds," printed at the book's end, provides a leitmotif executed in tandem by Slade and Cabrera; in one spread that includes a quote from the poet, a young Brooks gazes at a cotton candy-hued sunset sky, dreaming about the future. Despite publishers' rejection letters and financial struggles during the Depression, she continued to believe in that hopeful future as "everywhere she looked, Gwendolyn saw more stories that needed to be told. So she kept writing." This fine biography should ignite readers' interest in exploring Brooks's exquisite writing. Ages 6-9. (Apr.)

Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"The biography's awestruck, reverent tone is matched by the gorgeous acrylic paintings. . . A visually remarkable and inspiring introduction to the life of Gwendolyn Brooks."— "School Library Journal"
Suzanne Slade
Suzanne Slade is the author of over 150 children's books, including Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, a Sibert Honor book; and Swish! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters, a Junior Library Guild book. An engineer by training, she worked on rockets and cars before beginning her writing career.

Edwin Fotheringham is the award-winning illustrator of many picture book biographies, including Eleanor Makes Her Mark, Full of Beans, Blue Grass Boy, What to Do About Alice?, and Those Rebels, John & Tom. He is also the illustrator of the Tony Baloney series by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
Illustrator website edfotheringham.com
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Harry N. Abrams
Publication date
April 20, 2020
Coretta Scott King Award
Honor Book
Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award
Honor Book

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