Designed for all children but especially for ours. This inscription is on the inside cover of each issue of The Brownies’ Book: A Monthly Magazine for Children of the Sun. The periodical was founded in 1920 by the deeply influential American sociologist and scholar W.E.B. Du Bois in partnership with writer, musician, and civil rights activist Augustus Granville Dill and editor and poet Jessie Redmon Fauset. The publication, which retailed for $1.50 for a six-month subscription or 15¢ an issue, ran for almost two years and served as a “much-needed medium for Black and brown children and families to learn about the many contributions made by people of color around the world,” in the words of professor and sociologist Dr. Karida L. Brown, as well “as a public forum to discuss current issues they faced, and most of all, as a space of literary and artistic joy.”
Brown and her husband, artist Charly Palmer, have given this groundbreaking publication new life with The New Brownies’ Book: A Love Letter to Black Families (Chronicle Books, October 2023). As co-authors, Brown and Palmer have curated a kaleidoscopic vision of diasporic Black experience, including fiction, historical narrative, poetry, and visual content, geared to be accessible to young readers, but appealing to all.
The book beautifully juxtaposes contemporary art and poetry with Black history in the US and abroad, including the impact of the original Brownies’ Book. Historic images of African-American youth and snippets of the old black-and-white periodical blend and contrast with full-color imagery, vivid poetry, and storytelling that tackles modern-day issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing state-sanctioned violence toward people of color in the US.
The book also contains a special section in tribute to Langston Hughes, the highly prolific and much-lauded Harlem Renaissance writer who was first published in the original Brownies’ Book. During Du Bois’s tenure at the NAACP’s The Crisis magazine, where he served as editor from 1910 to 1934, he discovered Hughes’s work, and routed it to The Brownies’ Book for publication. Much like everything in The New Brownies’ Book, these works by Hughes highlight Black excellence past and present. And just like the original, this book promises to provide an experience any child can enjoy, but one designed especially for those of color.
The New Brownies’ Book: A Love Letter to Black Families by Karida L. Brown and Charly Palmer (2023) is published by Chronicle Books and is available online and in bookstores.