A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by: Alice Faye Duncan

Illustrated by: Xia Gordon

For ages: 4 years and up

Language: English

Topics Covered: POC-Centric Narratives, Poetry, Black Culture & Identity, Women Poets, Own Voices, Trailblazer, Historical Figure, Historical Events.

Summary: This book is a fascinating rendition of poetry surrounding Gwendolyn Brooks, some of it is her own poetry and some is the author’s.  The author creates her own song to celebrate Brooks, and text winds around beautiful illustrations.  This book is very hard to describe, it’s more of an immersive experience than a traditional story!

Gwendolyn was born in Kansas but spent most of her life in Chicago.  Her parents were extremely supportive of her gift with words, and fought back against a teacher who accused Gwendolyn of plagiarizing.  Brooks wrote tons of poetry throughout her entire life, and sought inspiration from what she saw outside her window.  She was the first Black Pulitzer Prize winner, being awarded this high honor in 1950.  An author’s note with more concrete details about the life of Brooks is in the back, including a detailed timeline spanning two pages and suggested readings by Brooks herself!

Reflection Questions:

  • What do you know about poetry?
  • Do you think songs and poems are the same thing?
  • Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • How do you think Gwendolyn felt when her mother believed her, and defended her to the teacher that thought she was plagiarizing?

About the Author & the Illustrator:


In the words of Alice Faye Duncan herself:

I am my mother’s only child and Memphis is my home. I went to library school at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville). While there, Professor Glenn Estes introduced me to picture books. At the University of Memphis, I took a Children’s Literature Class from Professor Ramona Mahood. She introduced me to author, Charles Turner, who inspired me to write WILLIE JEROME–my very first book. Macmillan published it in 1995. Picture books are my favorite to write! They allow me to “sing” without a music education or singing voice. YOU DON’T WANT ME TO SING. Really. 

I discovered the poets, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks, when I was a child searching the crowded shelves in my parents’ personal library.  While I loved each poet, my early writing was most similar to Paul Laurence Dunbar.  I wrote for the ear to hear and the voice to speak words like I heard them spoken in school, church and the sundry store. Langston, Gwen and I, have Dunbar in common.  It was Paul Laurence Dunbar who moved us early in life to make words our vocation. Words are my work and my pathway to words began with poetry.  

My picture books include biographies of Black artists and moments in American History seldom told. I also write lyrical stories that celebrate the sustaining power of love between a mother and child. My books are illustrated by award winning artists like Gregory Christie, Xia Gordon, Charnelle Pinkney Barlow (YES! of the Famous Pinkney Family) and Mary Uhles. MEMPHIS, MARTIN AND THE MOUNTAINTOP won a 2019 Coretta Scott Honor Medal for illustrations.


Xia Gordon is an Ignatz-nominated cartoonist and illustrator living in Brooklyn, NY. She grew up in Orlando, FL and graduated from the School of Visual Arts with a BFA in Cartooning & Illustration in 2016. She studied as a Teaching Assistant Intern at the Robert Black Burn Printmaking Worskshop in 2016 and was a Visiting Artist at the Center for Cartoon Studies in 2018.

Her comic Kindling was published by 2dcloud in early 2017 and was named one of The Comic Journal’s Best Comics of 2017 and 2018. She also Illustrated A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks written by Alice Faye Duncan (Sterling Children’s Books.)

Selected Clients: The New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Penguin Random House (Classics)VICE NewsBuzzfeed News, Lenny Letter, Narratively, The Baffler.

Some nice words from: Philippe LeBlanc at ComicsBeat, Ardo Omer at Book Riot, and Rob Clough of High-Low Comics.

Interview for FRESH at Communication Arts.

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