Often overlooked in analyses of the career of Gwendolyn Brooks are her works for children. As a result of her own childhood filled with books, she is committed not only to the importance of reading for young people but also to the notion that there must be some material for them. Bronzeville Boys and Girls (1956) is the first in a series of works designed specifically for younger readers. The thirty-four poems in the collection are simple and extremely brief. Most of them rely heavily on the traditional rhyme scheme of abcb often coupled with very short lines. As a result the poetic voice seems to suggest not only poems for a child but poems in the voice of a child. When she turns to poetry for children, there is a strain of romantic idealism as she suggests the beauty of uncrowded nature.
Like the earlier A Street in Bronzeville (1945), this collection is also set in Chicago, but it could take place in any crowded urban area, and the characters who are black Chicagoans could be of any race or ethnic group. Race and locale are less important than the fact that the young characters are in the process of self-discovery. Some poems express happiness as does the opening poem “Maxie and Birdie”, which records two youngsters having a “tiny tea-party” with “pink cakes.” Others are sad as they recount the experiences of children like Lyle, who looks at a tree lovingly because the tree can stay where it is whereas Lyle has “waved goodbye to seven homes.” There is Otto who did not get the Christmas present he wanted but is mature enough to hide his feelings from his father. Then there is the contemplative Rudolph, who “is tired of the city” and who explains overcrowding by observing “these buildings are too close to me.” These are just a few of the children who populate Bronzeville Boys and Girls.
The sense of belonging and a feeling for one's neighborhood inform the poems in this collection. Rather than viewing impoverished or deteriorating surroundings with loathing, Brooks suggests that one can find the beauty in family and home no matter how unpleasant a locale may be.
Maria K. Mootry and Gary Smith, eds., A Life Distilled: Gwendolyn Brooks, Her Poetry and Fiction, 1987.
Kenny Jackson Williams