United States of America: Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee

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Good day friends!!

I am excited to share my second book review for Multicultural Children's Book Day (MCBD)! I just finished a great book for my first book review for MCBD that you can read here.

Last year, I reviewed three wonderful diverse books for MCBD, a non-profit organization. MCBD began five years ago by two kind ladies who love reading and sharing the world with others. Together, they created a day that celebrated books from around the world for kids, families and teachers! Now, their national event helps spread awareness for learning of different cultures and people across the globe. Talk about some amazing stuff!

I had so much fun writing the book reviews last year! I learned a lot about other countries in Asia near my home, like Korea, Cambodia and the Philippines. I have a special quote on my website by the great Maya Angelou that I want to share with you:

“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”

Through the power of reading and diverse books, we can all learn so much about ourselves and others. Then we can connect on a deeper level and help one another. I love traveling the world and sharing my adventures with kids and families like you. So being part of this special movement fills me with joy! (Did you like the pun I added in there?)

After I got comfy in my tree nest this morning, I opened this book and noticed that our next story takes place in the country of the United States of America (U.S.A.). Many of you have probably heard of the U.S.A., or even live there! But just in case you don’t know, I want to show you where it is in the world. The U.S.A. is located on the continent of North America (in green on the map below).

Photo By Black and White (Own work by the original uploader) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo of Map of United States [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The U.S.A. is divided up into 50 states, which are on the map above. The story I am reviewing today takes place in two states on the eastern coast of the U.S.A.: Massachusetts (in red) and New York (in purple). Just to give you an idea, New York is about 9,527 miles away from my home in Indonesia. Talk about a LONG trip!

The book I am excited to review today is Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! It is written by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Keith Mallett and published by Lee & Low Books  (bronze sponsor this year). The book won Lee & Low’s New Voices Award for 2014! Congratulations Ms. Loney!! 

Photo By Joy Sun Bear, Inc.

I love the rich color and detailed art in this book! The pictures really made me feel like I was in the story. Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee is a true story about a talented young boy who fell in love with photography when a man came to his home to take a picture of his family. James always loved art, but could never draw people’s faces the way he wanted. So when he saw the photographer use a huge machine to capture people’s faces and expressions, it felt like the perfect way for James to share his art with others. I was impressed with how hardworking James was! He sold ladies’ perfume and pulled weeds in his neighbor’s garden in order to save up enough money to buy a camera. After sometime, he saved up five dollars and ended up being the second person in his town to own a camera of his own. Good job James!

At this point, I was curious to see what James did with new camera. He started taking pictures of people in his town and soon people all around where saying, “take a picture of me, James VanDerZee!” He was so clever that he turned his closet into a darkroom. A darkroom is a room with no light so photographers can process film and photographic paper. I like how James used what he had to create what he needed!

As he got older, James saw how the world was changing around him. He noticed that a lot of families of color were leaving the South to live new lives in larger towns up north, like New York City.  James wanted to take a new adventure with his photography, so he moved to Harlem, New York at age 18. Living in a big and busy town, was MUCH different than his small town of Lenox, Massachusetts. But James was determined to make his dreams come true! He worked all different kinds of jobs, like being a waiter, elevator operator and pianist, so he could stay in New York to get a job as a photographer. I really like this boy’s spirit!

James finally got his first job as an assistant photographer at a portrait studio in New Jersey. But unfortunately, his boss thought the customers wouldn’t want to have their pictures taken by a black man. That doesn’t sound fair! So James worked hard, like he always did, and did his best developing pictures people would enjoy in the darkroom. I got so excited when James finally got a chance to run the studio when his boss left for vacation. James took his time with each customer to make sure he took the best pictures he could. Then he would take them into his darkroom and use techniques to make the pictures look even better. With special tools, he was able to fix people’s hair, brighten eyes and even straighten people’s teeth. Wow, now that is impressive!

From there, the book goes on to discuss more about James VanDerZee (such a fun name to say!). It discusses James’s work at the start of the Harlem Renaissance and the famous people, and the not famous people, that James took photos of. It didn’t matter where you were from, rich or poor, James always did his best when he took your picture. That’s class!


Here is a video I found to share more about the Harlem Renaissance:

The author does a great job telling James’s story! I feel she really honored his life through this beautiful tale. The illustrator did a great job taking real photographs that James took and drawing them for the story. That’s talent!

Such beautiful illustrations!

You will definitely want to read the Afterword of the story as the author share more details on James’s life. You also get to see some of his real photographs. There is even one of him as a young man in 1900, wow!

James VanDerZee is such an inspiration! He always made the best of what he had. He didn’t give up on his dreams and worked hard to give people their best photos. I can’t wait to share this book with my family tonight! I think they will really enjoy it.  

“Like this Mr. VanDerZee?!”

Well, I hope you too will check out Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee with your family! It is truly a special story about a special man who changed history with the passion of his photography!

Gotta grab lunch friends. I’ve been so into this story that I forgot to eat. Boy, my tummy is rumbling! Honeycomb here I come!

Good bye friends and see you next time!

-Joy Sun Bear


Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018 (1/27/18) is in its 5th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.  

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board.

2018 MCBD Medallion Sponsors

HONORARY: Children’s Book Council, Junior Library Guild

PLATINUM:Scholastic Book Clubs

GOLD:Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Loving Lion Books, Second Story Press, Star Bright Books, Worldwide Buddies

SILVER:Capstone Publishing, Author Charlotte Riggle, Child’s Play USA, KidLit TV, Pack-n-Go Girls, Plum Street Press

BRONZE: Barefoot Books, Carole P. Roman, Charlesbridge Publishing, Dr. Crystal Bowe, Gokul! World, Green Kids Club, Gwen Jackson, Jacqueline Woodson, Juan J. Guerra, Language Lizard, Lee & Low Books, RhymeTime Storybooks, Sanya Whittaker Gragg, TimTimTom Books, WaterBrook & Multnomah, Wisdom Tales Press

2018 Author Sponsors

Honorary Author Sponsors: Author/Illustrator Aram Kim and Author/Illustrator Juana Medina

Author Janet Balletta, Author Susan Bernardo,  Author Carmen Bernier-Grand, Author Tasheba Berry-McLaren and Space2Launch, Bollywood Groove Books, Author Anne Broyles,  Author Kathleen Burkinshaw, Author Eugenia Chu, Author Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author Medeia Cohan and Shade 7 Publishing, Desi Babies, Author Dani Dixon and Tumble Creek Press, Author Judy Dodge Cummings, Author D.G. Driver, Author Nicole Fenner and Sister Girl Publishing, Debbi Michiko Florence, Author Josh Funk, Author Maria Gianferrari, Author Daphnie Glenn, Globe Smart Kids, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Author Quentin Holmes, Author Esther Iverem, Jennifer Joseph: Alphabet Oddities, Author Kizzie Jones, Author Faith L Justice , Author P.J. LaRue and MysticPrincesses.com, Author Karen Leggett Abouraya, Author Sylvia Liu, Author Sherri Maret, Author Melissa Martin Ph.D., Author Lesli Mitchell, Pinky Mukhi and We Are One, Author Miranda Paul, Author Carlotta Penn, Real Dads Read, Greg Ransom, Author Sandra L. Richards, RealMVPKids Author Andrea Scott, Alva Sachs and Three Wishes Publishing, Shelly Bean the Sports Queen,  Author Sarah Stevenson, Author Gayle H. Swift Author Elsa Takaoka, Author Christine Taylor-Butler, Nicholette Thomas and  MFL Publishing  Author Andrea Y. Wang, Author Jane Whittingham  Author Natasha Yim

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/27/18 at 9:00pm.

Join the conversation and win one of 12-5 book bundles and one Grand Prize Book Bundle (12 books) that will be given away at the party! http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/twitter-party-great-conversations-fun-prizes-chance-readyourworld-1-27-18/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teacher-classroom-empathy-kit/

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

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1 thought on “United States of America: Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee”

  1. Hello Joy sun bear my name is Dominic I’m from Mrs Joyce’s class she is now teaching grade 5/6 the book I choses was the true story one. James Vanderzee what I found in the book was the boy James and he wanted to buy a camera. James loved to do art as well. James is now 96 years old he died in may the 15th 1983 and he was born in the 29th of June 1886.

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