The Blacker the Berry by Joyce Carol Thomas and Floyd Cooper

Captain’s Log: Module 4

Port of Call: Thomas, J.C. (2008). The blacker the berry. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

First Lines: Colors, without black,

couldn’t sparkle quite so bright…

Cover of The Blacker the Berry


This book is a collection of poems about skin color but truly are also about embracing who we are and what heritage has made us. Each poem speaks of our skin in vocabulary overflowing with  colors and tastes and smells. The poems are tied to a common theme of fruit/food as in, “I am red raspberries stirred in to blackberries”. And the ultimate message is that we are so much more than just the color of our skin, eyes and hair.

The poems are of medium length, and are accompanied by a full page illustration that portrays the character who is the topic of each poem. I thought every poem was lovely, skillfully crafted so that the book was interesting, vibrant, easy to read and full of sensory language that really made you feel the essence of each poem/person.

First Impressions: I’m not a big fan of reading poetry, so this book intimidated me a bit before I opened it. However, I was sucked in with the first few lines and flew through the poems in one sitting. I also loved the illustrations and spent time looking at each picture and picking out the elements that were representative of the poems they accompanied.

Suggestions for use: This is a book about celebration. This book’s message will most likely resonate loudest with African American children, but truly its message of acceptance and individuality can be a powerful message to all ethnic groups. I liked that this book taught the beauty that exists within all of us, and how we can wear our skin proudly and feel comfortable in who we are. Read this book to children who may feel they are not beautiful, and help them to point out the ways in which they are incredibly wonderful and special.


School Library Journal:

“Grade 1–4—The varieties of African-American ethnic heritage are often rendered invisible by the rigid construction of racial identity that insists on polarities. This collection of 12 poems makes the complexities of a layered heritage visible and the many skin shades celebrated. Read-aloud-sized spreads offer luminous artwork that complements the verses in which children speak of their various hues: “I am midnight and berries…” a child says in the title poem. In another selection, a boy recalls his Seminole grandmother who has given him the color of “red raspberries stirred into blackberries.” In “Cranberry Red,” a child asserts that “it’s my Irish ancestors/Who reddened the Africa in my face,” understanding that “When we measure who we are/We don’t leave anybody out.” The large illustrations match the lyrical poetry’s emotional range. Cooper’s method includes “pulling” the drawing out from a background of oil paint and glazes. With his subtractive method, he captures the joy of these children—the sparkle of an eye, the width of a grin, the lovely depths of their skin, and the light that radiates from within. This book complements titles that explore identity, such as Katie Kissinger’s All the Colors We Are (Redleaf, 1994).”

Pfeifer, T. (2008) School Library Journal Review for The Blacker the Berry. Retrieved September 9th, 2010 from

Bats at the Library by Brian Lies

Captain’s Log: Module 1

Port of Call: Lies, B. (2008). Bats at the library. Boston: Houghton Mifflin

a number of bats pulling a book off library shelves using headphone cord

Cover of Bats at the Library

First Lines:

“Another inky evening’s here-

the air is cool and calm and clear.

We’ve feasted, fluttered, swooped and soared,

and yet… we’re still a little bored.”

Summary: A colony of bats has an unexpected night of fun and reading when they discover someone has left a window open at the local library. Apparently this happens every year or so, and the older bats get to show the bat pups what fun the library has to offer. Making shadow puppets on the overhead projector, to making batty photocopies, swimming in the drinking fountain…. the bats explore everything but eventually they find themselves enthralled by the books and stories all around them. So immersed, in fact, that they almost don’t notice when morning comes!

Bats at the Library

Bats hang upside down from a lampshade, reading

First Impressions: I immediately loved the full-color illustrations of the cover and was not disappointed to see the same style continued within the book. The dark colors and bat theme give this book a Halloween atmosphere (and in fact I found it in the holiday books at my library) but the story itself is not a Halloween book. I thought the bat illustrations and font were fun and cute. A few amazingly memorable pages show illustration montages from highly recognizable children’s classics.

Suggestions for use: This book would be great for sharing with children the excitement of reading and how wonderful it can be when you are sucked into a story so completely. Also a great book for Autumn thanks to the Halloween-ish atmosphere which does not overtly promote that holiday.

Other Notes: Apparently Lies has a series of books featuring the bats, including Bats at the Ballgame and Bats at the Beach. So if you liked the bats (and I did!) there are a few more ways to see them again.


School Library Journal: “In this companion to Bats at the Beach (Houghton, 2006), Lies pays homage to the pleasures to be found within libraries and books. The story opens on three winged creatures clinging to an autumnal branch against the backdrop of evening.





A bat flies through the air on a bed saying, no more melted cheese for me, no

Part of the children's classics montage

Observant readers will recognize the young bat with yellow “water wings” from the earlier title and notice that the chimney and trees at the top of the page point downward—a cue to attend to perspective. The bats are bored, but an antidote is announced: someone left a window open in the library. The golden glow from spotlights on the side of the building and an Arts and Crafts-style reading lamp illuminate the nocturnal adventures in this handsome, traditional space. The bats cluster according to interests. Some peruse “guides to fancy foods” (insect books) and form literary discussion groups. The younger mammals make images of themselves at the copier, frolic in the fountain, play at the computer, and explore the gingerbread castle in a pop-up book. An impromptu storytime brings everyone together, however, and after the pint-size protagonist is literally drawn into the featured book, two spreads reveal a montage of scenes from classic stories, with bats in the starring roles.

Lies’s acrylics are a successful fusion of fantasy and reality. The rhyming narrative is generally smooth, with enough humor and sophistication to propel readers along. And who can argue with the message?”

Lukehart, W. (2010)  School Library Journal  review of Bats at the Library. Retrieved August 28th from

Worcester Telegram and Gazette News:The creator of “Bats at the Beach” has brought his endearing band of flying mammals back for a nocturnal visit to the public library, a stimulating trip made possible by news that a window to the building has been left ajar. The older members of the group — you can tell them by their spectacles — are content with seeking out favorite titles such as “Goodnight Sun.” Some bats, in “munchy moods,” will study “guides to fancy foods.” Others — quite literally — “hang out” by the lamps to schmooze, while a few of the youngsters play shape shadows with an overhead projector. Brian Lies clearly has a passion for libraries and the world of wondrous treats that they have to offer, an enthusiasm he shares by way of his wonderfully sophisticated chiaroscuro paintings.”

Worcester Telegram and Gazette News (2008) Review of Bats at the Library. Retrieved August 28th, 2010 from

a full page spread from the book