An illustrated alphabet book for young readers
The English department celebrates the publication of Dianne Johnson-Feelings’s new book for young readers, H Is for Harlem, published this year under her pen name, Dinah Johnson, by Christy Ottaviano Books (July 19, 2022).
Dr. Johnson-Feelings is Professor of English and one of the English department’s most illustrious faculty members. She received her PhD and MA from Yale University and her AB from Princeton. A specialist in Children’s Literature, she is the author of numerous acclaimed books for young readers, including Black Magic, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie and published by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers in 2009.
H Is for Harlem is evocatively illustrated by April Harrison. The book follows the classic tradition of the alphabet book, a volume that illuminates and illustrates history one letter at a time. For example, one of the first entries is for the legendary Apollo Theater: “Get off at the 125th Street Station, in the heart of Harlem, and you can walk right over to the famed Apollo Theater. Don’t forget to rub the lucky stone as you go in.”
Professor Johnson-Feelings emphasizes her love of Harlem as a place she has visited so often that she’s claimed it as personal geography. Remarking that she is a “South Carolina girl,” she observes, in a prefatory note, that “I’ve spent so much time in Harlem that it feels like a second home.”
This encyclopedic guide richly evokes Harlem’s storied history as the foundational terrain for one of the authentic American literary, arts, and cultural movements, the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s. It addresses the era of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. And it showcases contemporary heroes such as Geoffrey Canada, who runs the organization the Harlem Children’s Zone. One will want to make this book a personal touchstone, a source of living, alphabetized inspiration always.
The reviews are suitably glowing. Horn Book, in its starred review, effuses, “Engaging and beautiful ... What a splendid way to learn the alphabet!” The Kirkus Review praises the book as “a beautiful and welcome celebration of Black joy. A gem that whets the appetite to learn more about a city where art is as alive as the people who live there.” And in its starred review, Booklist pronounces the book “Sumptuous and necessary... Harrison's mixed-media illustrations are meant to be savored for their layers of detail. Light seems to shine through these stunning, vibrant pages. Would that the English alphabet had more than 26 letters so that H is for Harlem could have been longer.”