Four-year-old TJ spends his days on his lively Harlem block playing with his best friends WT and Blinky and running errands for neighbors. As he comes of age as a “Little Man” with big dreams, TJ faces a world of grown-up adventures and realities. Baldwin’s only children’s book, Little Man, Little Man celebrates and explores the challenges and joys of black childhood.
Now available for the first time in forty years, this new edition of Little Man, Little Man—which retains the charming original illustrations by French artist Yoran Cazac—includes a foreword by Baldwin’s nephew Tejan "TJ" Karefa-Smart and an afterword by his niece Aisha Karefa-Smart, with an introduction by two Baldwin scholars. In it we not only see life in 1970s Harlem from a black child’s perspective, but we also gain a fuller appreciation of the genius of one of America’s greatest writers.
Foreword / Tejan Karefa-Smart
Introduction / Nicholas Boggs and Jennifer DeVere Brody
Little Man, Little Man
Afterword / Aisha Karefa-Smart
“The prospect of reading an out-of-print children’s book by none other than James Baldwin himself is as tantalizing an invitation as I have ever been offered. And . . . it does not disappoint! Baldwin baptizes us into a world that most who read this book will never know and we will all forever be the better for it! The voice and vernacular of TJ, the story’s child protagonist, will challenge the reader. Neither the native idioms of speech nor the world as seen through TJ’s eyes are meant by Baldwin to engender a sense of comfort in the reader. Instead he insists that we ‘come correct’ and open ourselves to an experience of seeing the world anew through the eyes of another. Which of course is not only the basis of compassion but classic Baldwin as well.”
"Pulled from the past, this is a brilliant exploration of black childhood with profound emotional depth, drawn from the grace and struggles of community and reinforcing the truth that no one knows Harlem like Baldwin."
"You’re getting everything through Baldwin’s keen insights and distinctive voice. And it really is a beautiful read. The descriptions alone are worth the price of admission.... I think that maybe this is the book that kids need today.... [T]he book has aged amazingly well.... A new classic. Looks like the world finally caught up with it at last."
School Library Journal
"French artist Cazac’s scribbly-line spreads and vignettes, tinted with watercolor, seem charged with electricity. Through luminous prose and fine observation, readers come to care deeply about TJ and his friends, and they’ll wish their story didn’t end so soon."
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"At 42, Little Man, Little Man has aged well. What might have been permanently dismissed . . . has instead matured into a timely representation of an urban African American childhood, presented in 'the black vernacular style of [Baldwin's] Harlem neighborhood,' made accessible once more to eager new audiences."
“Now that we have a children’s book, we can start people off even younger. It’s a book that young people can read or have read to them, but it’s also a new Baldwin for adults.”
Jacqueline Woodson, quoted in the
New York Times
"The watercolor images of Harlem — which took shape from Baldwin’s recollections, filtered through a French artist’s imagination — have a dreamlike, impressionist quality that can be almost jarring when juxtaposed with the sometimes menacing elements TJ confronts in his neighborhood."
New York Times
"Written for his nephew and out of print for 40 years, Baldwin's account of 4-year-old TJ's life in Harlem retains its power to enchant."
"A vivid perspective that is both moving and enriching . . . It is a story of childhood, from a particular time and place, captured in colloquial language that is freighted at once with innocence, pain and tenderness."
Meghan Cox Gurdon
Wall Street Journal
"A book to study and discuss at length. . . . The story’s profound depth stems from the implication that childhood innocence is a myth. Baldwin implies, as he does in his other work, that claiming innocence to racism (by adults and children alike) is a poor excuse for avoiding the difficult work required to grapple with it. Baldwin’s story of childhood forces the reader to grapple."
School Library Connection
"A must-read for fans of Baldwin, for those with interest in historical perspectives, and for those seeking a compelling story that will endure."
"I will have to reread Little Man, Little Man several times to begin to digest Baldwin’s intentions. It is completely unlike anything I’ve ever read. I found it to be challenging, fascinating, and—ultimately—entertaining."
Lu and Bean Read
"Cazac’s lively drawings not only convey the emotional energy of the children’s urban world, but also complement Baldwin’s rhapsodic celebration of blackness as a spectrum."
"This slice-of-life portrait of an African American community, with loose, evocative illustrations by French abstract artist Cazac, may appeal to mirrors-and-windows-seeking middle-graders-and-up."
The Horn Book
"Revisited forty years after its publication, Little Man, described by Baldwin as 'a celebration of the self-esteem of black children,' emerges as a pioneering work of children’s literature, driven by the protagonist’s perspective on the world around him, rather than plot. . . . Recent books . . . owe a debt to Little Man, which puts African American children at its centre, rather than placing them silently in the background."
"Re-read today in light of the contemporary resurgence of interest in Baldwin’s novels and essays, particularly his meditations on black English and police brutality, Little Man, Little Man brings to life many of Baldwin’s arguments as it dissolves rigidly drawn lines between children’s and adult literature. . . . Cazac’s dreamlike art . . . through its rich colors and salmagundi of both smiling and brooding faces, [captures] a nuanced vision of black childhood that, alongside Baldwin’s text, makes Little Man, Little Man stand out as utterly unlike anything in Baldwin’s corpus—or, even, American literature more broadly—that came before or after."
New York Review Daily