Telling a People's Story
The Athens Public Library will showcase African American history as it is illustrated in children’s books by African American authors by hosting “Telling a People’s Story: African American Children’s Illustrated Literature” November 1 through December 20, 2019. (Emily Votaw/WOUB Public Media)

‘Telling a People’s Story’ Celebrates African American Children’s Literature

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November 1 through December 20 the Athens Public Library (30 Home Street, Athens) will host the Telling a People’s Story: African American Children’s Illustrated Literature exhibition, organized by the Miami University Art Museum with grant funding from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation.

The exhibition features 130 images selected from over 600 books and 14,000 illustrations reviewed in the making of this exhibition, which highlights how illustrated children’s literature has depicted important milestones throughout the course of African American history. The set of panels on display at the Athens Public Library is one of five traveling sets of panel that are currently on display at various educational non-profit institutions across the state.

When the Youth Services Coordinator for the library, Taryn Lentes, learned about the exhibition, they jumped at the opportunity to showcase it in Athens.

“I knew this (exhibition) would be something that would be amazing,” Lentes said. “As a part of my role as the Youth Services coordinator, anything within children’s literature interests me, and as an institution, we try to provide as diverse an offering of programming as we possibly can, and this exhibition really fits into that.”

Some of the books that are a part of the Athens Public Library’s collection that spotlight the African American experience that are on display as a part of the library’s hosting of “Telling a People’s Story: African American Children’s Illustrated Literature.” (Emily Votaw/WOUB Public Media)

The panels that are on display explain portions of African American history over the centuries, from origins in Africa, the Middle Passage (a 300-year span in which African people were forcibly taken from their homes and brought to the New World as slaves), Slavery, Emancipation (the proclamation made by President Abraham Lincoln to end slavery in the United States), Reconstruction (the years following the Confederacy’s loss of the Civil War and the efforts to rebuild the American south after it was devastated by war), Harlem Renaissance (an explosion of African American intellectual and artistic work centered around Harlem, NY that resulted in many works that are now considered some of the greatest ever created by Americans), Segregation, the Civil Rights Movement, and more.

“I think that picture books can often be overlooked and assumed to be simple, but they are sources of beautiful art, as you can see from the panels we have on display. These books offer a unique perspective, because when people have to boil something down for a young audience, there isn’t a lot of room for extra stuff — they need to get to the point, and they often do that in a poetic way,” said Lentes. “To be able to walk through here and see all this beautiful art made by African American illustrators — who don’t get enough attention in the publishing world in general; to be able to highlight at least a portion of their work and highlight African American history at the same time is a really cool melding of a lot of different things in one exhibition.”