I know what my niece is getting for Christmas
By now, hip-hop has become a mainstream part of the cultural landscape for children on shows like “Sesame Street,” “Yo Gabba Gabba!” on Nickelodeon and “Choo-Choo Soul” and “Handy Manny” on the Disney Channel. But when Rona Brinlee, a bookseller in Atlantic Beach, Fla., first heard about “Hip Hop Speaks to Children,” an illustrated anthology of poems and song lyrics, she worried that prospective buyers might shy away.
With previous volumes of poetry for children, she had noticed that the books were popular among grandparents looking for gifts. “I didn’t know if these same loving grandparents were going to say, ‘Wow, hip-hop,’ ” said Ms. Brinlee, who owns the BookMark, an independent bookstore. “Because some are going to make assumptions that this is violent, or they just don’t know anything about it.”
Ms. Brinlee quickly sold out of the initial six copies she stocked, and she has 10 more on order. “I’m thrilled to say that I was wrong,” she said.
“Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry With a Beat,” which features lyrics by Mos Def, Kanye West and Queen Latifah, as well as poems by Maya Angelou and Gwendolyn Brooks, has become a modest hit, rising to No. 3 among picture books on The New York Times children’s best-Seller list last Sunday .
One of the selling points of the book, which was edited by the poet Nikki Giovanni, is that it comes with a CD of recordings by many of the poets and artists performing their work, including an excerpt from A Tribe Called Quest’s “Ham ’N’ Eggs” and “Dream Variations,” by Langston Hughes. The book and CD conclude with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, followed by a hip-hop interpretation of the speech by Ms. Giovanni and the performers Oni Lasana and Val Gray Ward.
“We wanted to connect some dots, but in a very light way,” said Ms. Giovanni, who contributed three poems to the book, as well as an introduction. “I wanted to find that hip-hop voice that allows children to enter it, because they are listening to it anyway.”
Ms. Giovanni said she also wanted to reach back to what she sees as the roots of hip-hop in older poems by mainly African-American poets, like Hughes or Paul Laurence Dunbar, as well as to use the familiar vernacular of hip-hop to lure children to more established literary voices.
“I wanted them to see that there are, for lack of a better word, some train tracks with stops and stations along the way,” Ms. Giovanni said. “If you like Queen Latifah and ‘Ladies First,’ you’re going to love Langston Hughes and ‘Dream Boogie.’ ”