If author Kwame Alexander suggests a book is good, I am willing to give it a chance, which is how I came to read two pictures books published by Versify.

Versify is a new HMH Books for Young Readers imprint curated by Alexander that reflects the poet, educator and author’s “vision that accessible and powerful prose and poetry can celebrate the lives and reflect that possibilities of all children.”

According to Versify, it “publishes books that explore beauty, hurdles and hopefulness of life…stories that electrify, edify, and empower young people to imagine and create a better world, one word at a time.”

Four books have been curated and released April 2 including:
The Last Day of Summer by Lamar Giles (for ages 10 to 12)
White Rose by Kip Wilson (ages 12 and up)
Vamos Let’s Go to the Market by Raul the Third (ages four to seven)
The Undefeated by Alexander himself (ages four to seven).

IIustrations with a Mexican flare of a fox pulling a wageon of packages and a dog with mountains in and a cactus in the background.
Vamos Let’s Go to the Market – “Richard Scarry’s Busytown gets a Mexican-American makeover.”

Vamos Let’s Go to the Market ($21.50, Raincoast Books, Versify)

I am not a fan of Raul The Third‘s work. I don’t love the illustrations, which is important to me in a children’s book. However, I like this story better then his Lowriders in Space graphic novel.

“Richard Scarry’s Busytown gets a Mexican-American makeover in the marketplace of a buzzing border town from Pura Belpre.”

Little Lobo and his dog Bernabe get up early to make his deliveries at shops throughout the market, receiving as many gifts as deliveries made. The story has some Spanish phrases throughout (helpfully translated on the page) as well as some Spanish words, with a glossary in the back.

The book is bright and super busy.

It was neat to go from stand to stand to see what each artist was creating.

However, there is one part, which makes me shake my head and wonder who allowed such a thing to make it into a children’s book.

At one stall, a woman is taking tourists’ pictures with her zonkey (cross between a horse and zebra). She tells Little Lobo he is just on time and proceeds to paints stripes on her donkey with shoe polish to make a zonkey. So this woman is basically scamming tourists. What a terrible lesson for a children’s book – and any other kind of book.

Illustration of various black historical figures in triumph.
The Undefeated is a “love letter to black life in the United States.”

The Undefeated ($25.50, Raincoast Books, Versify)

In his afterward, Alexander writes he started to write the poem featured in the book the year his second daughter was born, three months before Barack Obama became president. Alexander said he wrote the book in tribute to both people.

“But mostly I wrote a poem to remind Samayah and her friends and her family and all of you, and to remind myself, to never ever give up because, as Maya Angelou wrote, ‘We may encounter so many defeats, but we must not be defeated. It may even be necessary to encounter the defeat, so that we can know who we are. So that we can see, oh, that happened, and I rose. I did get knocked down flat in front of the whole world, and I rose.’ Keep rising.”

This free verse poem shows the world about the importance of black life in the United States and talks about some of the historical people and situations that seem to be left out of history books. Alexander talks about the unforgettable people who survived by any means possible and those who didn’t (with a very power illustration). He highlights the unfraid, the marching ones and the unspeakable (again with powerful illustrations by Kadir Nelson) and he goes on to list the names of the doers and the unstoppable ones.

At the end of the book, Alexander gives a brief bio of the people he has highlighted in this book “a love letter to black life in the United States.”

It’s not my favourite Alexander book, but it was interesting to read about the people he mentions and their stories.

A copy of these books were provided by Raincoast Books for an honest review.
The opinions are my own.