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Harlem hellfighters
First edition.
Physical Description:
31 pages : color illustrations ; 32 cm
Reading Level:
1210 L Lexile
Added Author:
"A regiment of African American soldiers from Harlem journeys across the Atlantic to fight alongside the French in World War I, inspiring a continent with their brand of jazz music"--


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book J 940.403 LEW 1 1
Book J 940.403 LEW 1 1
Book J 940.403 LEW 1 1
Book J 940.403 LEW 1 1
Book J 940.403 LEW 1 1

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"Lewis's poetics are perfectly complemented by Kelley's evocative pastel illustrations, which both inspire and unsettle." -New York Times

They went by many names, but the world came to know them best as the Harlem Hellfighters. Two thousand strong, these black Americans from New York picked up brass instruments--under the leadership of famed bandleader and lieutenant James Reese Europe--to take the musical sound of Harlem into the heart of war. From the creators of the 2012Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book,And the Soldiers Sang, this remarkable narrative nonfiction rendering of WWI -- and American -- history uses free-verse poetry and captivating art to tell century-old story of hellish combat, racist times, rare courage, and inspired music.

Author Notes

J. Patrick Lewis was born on May 5, 1942. He is a poet and prose writer who is known for his children's poems. He worked as a professor of economics before devoting himself full-time to writing in 1998. He is the author of 90 children's books including: BoshBlobberBosh, Please Bury Me in the Library, A Hippopotamusn't, First Dog, Spot the Plot, The House, and The National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry. In 2014, his title Voices from the March on Washington, made the Hot Civil Rights Titles List.

He has received many awards from the American Library Association, The Golden Kite Award from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the Claudia Lewis Award from The Bank Street School and others. He also received the 2010-11 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Excellence in Children's Poetry Award. He was also named the third, U.S. Children's Poet Laureate for 2011-2013 by the Poetry Foundation in Chicago.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

Lyrical storytelling and haunting illustrations from the duo behind And the Soldiers Sang recount the achievements of the all-African-American 369th Infantry Regiment in WWI. Known as the Harlem Hellfighters, the 2,000-strong regiment was recruited with the help of "magnetic bandleader James Europe.... Even the tops of buses hosted Big/ Jim's band, recruits hopping aboard to the/ irresistible tug of patriotism, ragtime, and jazz." Panels in dark hues appears alongside Lewis's free-verse poems, which feature titles like "Recruited in Song" and "Orders to Move." These small poetic stories depict the Hellfighters' journey to the French front, battles, and the racism back home. The often-jarring images, with their shadows and angular lines, hit hard with poignancy. One spread intimates a ghost slave ship passing the Hellfighters' troop transport ship over the Atlantic; chained slaves stare out from an eerie fog, their faces coming closer with each panel. Classic works of art inspire Kelley's pastels (one softer scene features an upright piano in a field of impressionist red poppies). That these musicians turned soldiers didn't give up their music strikes a hopeful tone in this powerful tale. Ages 9-12. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

The story of the 15th New York National Guard, or the "Harlem Hellfighters," an all-black regiment that joined the Great War in its final year, is a revealing lens through which to view that conflict. Lewis brings a stark poetic sensibility to his topic. His free verse captures the world the men left, a training camp in the South, a place of "deputy sheriffs certain that black was not any color of the rainbow." In fourteen words he references the irony of black men being shipped across the Atlantic -- "Somewhere in the mid-Atlantic fog of history, two dark ships passed in the night" -- while in Kelley's atmospheric illustrations enslaved men in neck shackles appear out of the mist. In "The Tally," Lewis lets the statistics speak for themselves, contrasting the bravery of the soldiers honored by the French ("Citations: the Croix de Guerre to 171 Hellfighters; the Medal of Honor to 1 officer [white]"), with their meager recognition at home. Through the whole tragic enterprise there is music, with ragtime as a recruitment tool, a jazz version of the "Marseillaise," musician James Europe composing songs on a beat-up piano in an abandoned French farmhouse, and happy horns on Armistice Day. An introduction gives just enough background, and especially welcome artist's notes point out how Kelley echoes images of Monet, Delacroix, and Renoir in his illustrations. A bibliography is also included. This offering by the author-illustrator team behind the Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book And the Soldiers Sang is a needed antidote to some of the more sentimental WWI books of this centennial year. sarah ellis (c) Copyright 2014. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Evocative free-verse poems and illustrated panels introduce youngsters to the story of 2,000 African American men who, although treated like second-class citizens, were inspired to valiantly fight for democracy during WWI, awing their enemy, who nicknamed them the Hellfighters. The opening spread featuring headshots of black soldiers is the first clue that readers must digest this slowly. The lyrical text is both beautiful and hard-hitting, providing a loose time line of events and experiences, from the men's recruitment through their training in the Jim Crow South, disappointing grunt work overseas, and their courage and tenacity when finally embedded with French troops fighting the Germans. But this is a story of music, too. Many of the soldiers were recruited by bandleader James Europe. Some were fine musicians, who brought the sound of Harlem across the ocean. Fluid, somber-toned pastel drawings depict the desolation and add emotional depth, as when the regiment sails to France and passes a ghostly slave ship in the night. One of the brightest spots in the art is a picture of a piano Europe found in a French farmhouse, where he composed songs. This is a powerful tribute. Use it to spark students' research and as an example of courage and creative expression.--McDermott, Jeanne Copyright 2014 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

ON FEB. 17, 1919, the 369th Infantry Regiment returned to New York from France. Under a bright sun and cloudless sky, before a crowd of 250,000, the most decorated African-American combat unit to serve in World War I marched under the newly erected Victory Arch at 23rd Street and up Fifth Avenue. White observers were awed by the spectacle of some 3,000 black soldiers in French helmets, bayonets gleaming, parading in disciplined lock step formation, while black residents flooded the streets and cheered wildly, welcoming home their loved ones and heroes. Capped by this extraordinary moment, the 369th was etched in history as the Harlem Hellfighters. The 369th is for World War I what the Massachusetts Volunteer 54th Infantry Regiment is to the Civil War, or the Tuskegee Airmen to World War II. Like those other famous servicemen, the Harlem Hellfighters stand as representatives of the larger African-American struggle for equal rights and human dignity in their time, a theme persuasively captured in a new picture book by J. Patrick Lewis and Gary Kelley. "Harlem Hellfighters" joins a surge of books on the 369th appearing on the centennial of World War I. The men of the regiment, originally the New York 15th National Guard, proudly called themselves the Rattlers, as the title of Jeffrey Sammons and John Morrow's scholarly "Harlem's Rattlers and the Great War" attests. Yet the symbolic power of the name "Harlem Hellfighters" endures, reflected in the titles of a graphic novel by Max Brooks and Canaan White; another children's book by the late Walter Dean Myers and Bill Miles, who died in 2013, that is being reissued; and Lewis and Kelley's own contribution. The story of the 369th is so compelling because it is both representative and exceptional. Approximately 380,000 African-Americans served in the segregated Army during the war. A vast majority of black troops were denied the opportunity to fight, instead confined to labor battalions both in the United States and overseas. In December 1918 the 369th was shipped to France, where it initially seemed destined for a similar fate. Their fortunes changed when Gen. John Pershing assigned them to the French Army, which welcomed any fresh soldiers, regardless of race. Challenging the view promulgated by racist military officials that African-Americans played no significant role in the war, the 369th served for 191 consecutive days on the front lines, more than any other American regiment, never ceding an inch of ground to the Germans. Two of its soldiers, Henry Johnson and Neadom Roberts, were the first Americans to receive the French Croix de Guerre for valor on the battlefield. The 369th was also the first Allied regiment to reach the Rhine after the armistice and received a unit decoration from the French Army for its gallant service. The central figure of Lewis and Kelley's "Harlem Hellfighters" is James Reese Europe, the acclaimed ragtime composer and conductor who led the 369th regimental band and took France by storm with a new, exciting and soul-rousing sound that helped usher in the Jazz Age. Lewis tells the history of the 369th in free verse, invoking to great effect the syncopated rhythm that Europe and his band made famous. Lewis's poetics are perfectly complemented by Kelley's evocative pastel illustrations, which both inspire and unsettle. The men are rendered with a stoic simplicity that conveys dignity and perseverance. Some images are chilling, such as a bespectacled President Woodrow Wilson scornfully glaring from the page, juxtaposed with the suspended bodies of two lynched black men. Kelley skillfully accentuates his dark palette with the occasional red, white and blue of the American flag, serving to underscore the challenge the 369th faced in fighting for a country that failed to respect their citizenship and, all too often, their basic humanity. The United States entered the war, as Wilson proclaimed, to make the world "safe for democracy." The 369th fought also to make American democracy safe for black people. On and off the battlefield, the Harlem Hellfighters, as Lewis appropriately writes, "defined courage." That is why after nearly a century, their legacy remains very much alive. CHAD WILLIAMS, chairman of the African and Afro-American studies department at Brandeis University, is the author of "Torch-bearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era."

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6 Up-This beautifully illustrated collection of free-verse poems introduces readers to the Harlem Hellfighters, a group of black American soldiers who fought in World War I, impressing the French with their courage and tenacity while also inspiring Europeans with their music, "a mix of primitive jazz, blues, and upbeat ragtime." Despite the picture book format, the sophisticated writing style will be best understood by older readers. In addition, background knowledge is necessary to fully comprehend the poetry. For example, the poem "Somewhere" reads, "Somewhere/in the mid-Atlantic/fog of history, two/dark ships passed/in the night...." The illustration shows a slave ship crossing paths with the soldiers' vessel, but the slave trade itself is not mentioned anywhere in the text. The poems are of varying quality: some read more like expository text with some figurative language thrown in, while others feature strong imagery that will help readers visualize the sights and sounds of war. Kelly's atmospheric, pastel illustrations in muted tones are a perfect match for the time period, documenting the violence of war in Europe and the horror of lynchings at home. Those who look closely may notice that the illustrator has referenced some other works of art that are detailed in the artist's note. Refer students who would like to know more about these brave soldiers to Walter Dean Myers's The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage (HarperCollins, 2006). Though this title isn't a comprehensive look at the subject, it imparts the mood and feeling of the war well and serves as a good jumping-off point.- Jackie Partch, Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

A rare look at how music made a positive contribution to World War I.This picture book makes a striking first impression, opening with a double-page spread of sketched snapshots of 24 African-American soldiers that echo those in Shaun Tans The Arrival (2007). Each soldier, whether serious or smiling, gazes out at readers to introduce a story about all the ways the country for which they willingly fought still systematically discriminates against them even during wartime. Like these seemingly disconnected portraits at the beginning, episodic vignettes tell the story of how James Big Jim Reese Europe used music to motivate his troops under nearly insurmountable conditions; how the Harlem Hellfighters were often relegated to menial, grunt work jobs instead of being sent into battle, and how lynchings persisted at home despite their war efforts abroad. In the storys most haunting image, the ship on which the soldiers sail passes through the ghostly images of slaves wearing neck shackles, reminding readers that the Middle Passage still affected these black men in 1917. The narrative gaps and Lewis focus on so many different individuals and situations make this a work that packs an emotional rather than an informational punch; its best when used to supplement a more extensive study of the Harlem Hellfighters.A beautiful book that tells a truth that needs to be told. (bibliography, notes) (Informational picture book. 10-16) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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