The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem's Greatest Bookstore


Product Details

$17.99  $16.73
Carolrhoda Books (R)
Publish Date
9.4 X 11.1 X 0.4 inches | 0.94 pounds

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About the Author

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson is the author of The Book Itch, as well as three Coretta Scott King Award-winning books: No Crystal Stair, Bad News for Outlaws, and Almost to Freedom. She is a former youth services librarian in New Mexico. Visit her online at

R. Gregory Christie has illustrated over forty books and is the recipient of numerous awards including the NAACP's Image Award in Illustration. His books include Bad News for Outlaws and Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan. He lives in Georgia.


"Nelson and Christie bring the story of Harlem's storied National Memorial African Bookstore to picture book readers in this companion to their 2012 YA collaboration, No Crystal Stair. The shop was opened in the 1930s by Nelson's great-uncle, Lewis Michaux, who 'started out with five books... and a mission.' Writing in the voice of Michaux's admiring son, Nelson illuminates Lewis's generosity (he invited those who couldn't afford books into his shop to read) and his fervent belief in the power of words and books to change lives. Michaux's love of words comes through in his catchy aphorisms and sales pitches ('Knowledge is power. You need it every hour. Read a book!'), which appear throughout, as well as his nickname for the shop, 'The House of Common Sense and Home of Proper Propaganda.' Christie's paintings powerfully contrast the idea of the bookstore as a refuge with the tensions of the day, particularly during a section of the book about Michaux's friendship with Malcolm X and his anguish following the activist's assassination. It's an emotive tribute to Michaux's personal and professional legacy."--Publishers Weekly


"Taking an imaginative leap into the past, Nelson describes the role of the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem, which opened in the 1930s and became a place where all kinds of people came to read, talk, and buy books about African American history. Told from the point of view of Lewis Michaux Jr.--the bookstore owner's son and the author's relative--this title clearly explains what made this bookstore unique. Lewis Michaux Sr. had a passion for sharing books with others, which was reflected in his words 'Knowledge is power./You need it every hour./READ A BOOK!' He welcomed his customers and allowed them to stay as long as they wanted to and made a platform available outside the store so that people could speak their minds; among the speakers were Malcolm X and Michaux himself. Christie's bold, colorful paintings help readers envision this landmark bookstore and the surrounding neighborhood. Back matter includes additional information about Lewis Michaux Sr. and an author's note in which Nelson describes her interest in the subject, the sources she used for her research, and her use of perspective. Nelson and Christie's Coretta Scott King Honor No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller (Carolrhoda, 2012) is aimed at older readers; this picture book explores Michaux for a slightly younger audience. VERDICT: A strong endorsement of the power of books and reading, an excellent choice for history and biography collections, and a strong choice for educators emphasizing the importance of community."--School Library Journal


"If the central character of Nelson's Boston Globe-Horn Book Award-winning No Crystal Stair (rev. 3/12) was the author's great-uncle, Lewis Michaux, this picture book adaptation of the same source material shifts the focus just enough to give younger readers an introduction to his singular achievement: the National Memorial African Bookstore, founded by Michaux in Harlem in the 1930s. Where No Crystal Stair had more than thirty narrators, this book has but one, Michaux's young son Lewis, a late-in-life child who witnessed the store's doings during the tumultuous 1960s. Studded with Michaux's aphorisms ('Don't get took! Read a book!'), the book successfully conveys the vibrancy of the bookstore and its habitués, including Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, whose assassination provides the emotional climax of the story. R. Gregory Christie, whose black-and-white drawings are such an inextricable part of No Crystal Stair, is here allowed full pages drenched with expressionistic color to convey the spirit of the place, time, and people. While middle-graders might need some context to understand that the book is set fifty years in the past, its concerns remain: as Michaux 'jokes' to Lewis, 'Anytime more than three black people congregate, the police get nervous.' Nelson provides full documentation in a biographical note, and some of the bookseller's best slogans decorate the endpapers."--The Horn Book Magazine


"This companion to No Crystal Stair (2012) introduces younger readers to Nelson's great uncle, Lewis Michaux Sr., owner of Harlem's National Memorial African Bookstore. Michaux's young son Lewis Jr. narrates; he recalls helping his father with the day-to-day operation of the shop; visits from the famous, including Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X; and the devoted community patronage that helped the store thrive for nearly four decades. Nelson highlights Michaux's dedication to his calling (he financed the business with his own money and often slept at the store when customers stayed late), as well as his determination to educate his clientele. She also notes the political climate the store fostered, detailing a missed meeting with Malcolm X on the night he was shot, which probably saved Michaux's life. Christie, who also illustrated the earlier volume, here uses a bold color palette and realistically rendered figures. He incorporates many of Michaux's slogans ('Don't get took! Read a book!') into the art, especially on the end papers and in depictions of the storefront. Appended with generous back matter including a list of sources, this moving tribute should be a welcome addition to almost any collection."--starred, Booklist


"A man with a mission leaves a memorable mark in Harlem. The National Memorial African Bookstore and its owner, Lewis Michaux, were vibrant Harlem fixtures for many years. Nelson, who told her great-uncle's story for teen readers in the award-winning No Crystal Stair, also illustrated by Christie (2012), now turns to the voice of Michaux's son as narrator in this version for a younger audience. The son is an enthusiastic and proud witness to history as he talks about visits to the bookstore by Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. Michaux's commitments to reading, knowledge, and African-American history shine brightly through the liberal use of boldface and large type for his pithy and wise sayings, as in 'Knowledge is power. You need it every hour. READ A BOOK!' Christie's richly textured and complex paintings, created with broad strokes of color, showcase full bookcases and avid readers. His use of a billboard motif to frame both scenes and text evokes a troubled but strong neighborhood. Faces in browns and grays are set against yellow and orange backgrounds and depict intense emotions in both famous and ordinary folk. The Michaux family's deeply felt sorrow at the assassination of Malcolm X will resonate with all readers. From the author's heart to America's readers: a tribute to a man who believed in and lived black pride."--starred, Kirkus Reviews