Cline-Ransome, Lesa. Finding Langston. Holiday House. 2018. Gr. 3-5.
Chicago brings culture shock for eleven-year-old Langston, who moves there from Alabama with his father in 1946 after his mother dies. At school the other Bronzeville neighborhood kids call him “country boy,” and at home the strange city noises keep him up at night. He’s startled but delighted to find that his neighborhood hosts a beautiful library, and that, unlike the libraries back in Alabama that “don’t let in colored folks,” this one is open to all Chicago residents, serves its African-American community, and celebrates writers of color. Langston begins to find a Chicago home in the quiet welcome of that library, and his literary explorations lead him to learn more about his name—and even his family.
Langston’s narration is soft-spoken and understated, and he’s a very realistic preteen, dealing with issues of dislocation, grief, and even bullying to which many readers will relate. The gradual reveal of details about Langston’s mother and her love of poetry makes her a soft presence in the book despite her absence, much as she is in Langston’s own life. Cline-Ransome gives weight to the historical elements—the mid-century Great Migration of African Americans to the North, the legendary George Cleveland Hall branch of the Chicago Public Library, and, of course, the work of poet Langston Hughes—but never shifts focus away from the experience of her young protagonist, “living up North but missing the South and feeling lonely.” That experience of cultural transplantation is keenly described and contemporarily relevant, and it makes Finding Langston a gentle, heartfelt gem.
About the Scott O’Dell Award
Origin and Purpose
The Scott O’Dell award, created by Scott O’Dell and Zena Sutherland in 1982 and now administered by Elizabeth Hall, carries with it a prize of $5000, and goes annually to the author of a distinguished work of historical fiction for young people published by a U. S. publisher and set in the Americas.
The winner is chosen by a committee appointed by Elizabeth Hall; its members are Elizabeth Bush, former librarian at St. Damian School and adjunct faculty at the iSchool at the University of Illinois; Ann Carlson, librarian at the Oak Park-River Forest High School; Roger Sutton, editor in chief of The Horn Book; and, as chair, Deborah Stevenson, editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.