Book Review: Black Girl You Are Atlas

Title: Black Girl You Are Atlas

Author:  Renée Watson, Ekua Holmes (Illustrator)

Genres:  Poetry

Pages: 96

Publisher: Kokila

Review Copy: ARC by publisher

Availability: Available now

Summary: In this semi-autobiographical collection of poems, Renée Watson writes

about her experience growing up as a young Black girl at the intersections of race, class, and gender.

Using a variety of poetic forms, from haiku to free verse, Watson shares recollections of her childhood in Portland, tender odes to the Black women in her life, and urgent calls for Black girls to step into their power.

Black Girl You Are Atlas encourages young readers to embrace their future with a strong sense of sisterhood and celebration. With full-color art by celebrated fine artist Ekua Holmes throughout, this collection offers guidance and is a gift for anyone who reads it.

Review: I have enjoyed every Renée Watson book I’ve ever read, even taught Watch Us Rise, so when I saw “Black Girl You Are Atlas” on the display shelf at NCTE, I was more than interested. Watson’s words have always had a lyrical quality that always draws me in and truly moves the spirit.  This collection of poetry is a mix of autobiographical story telling while also reveling in the beauty that is Black culture, Black girlhood. Watson also uses a few different poetic styles from prose, to haiku, to a pantoum, and free verse. 

The title of the collection comes from the poem “Atlas” where she begins with the different definitions of the word then ties the prose style poem to all the different definitions. She plays with the different definitions exploring how Black girls (and women) often carry the world on their shoulders while they also contain the histories of Black people within them. It is a beautiful poem that acknowledges the burdens Black girls often carry while lifting them up at the same time. 

Another poem that I really loved was titled “When I Say I Love Us” which is a love poem to Black culture. The poem is all about the wonderful aspects of Black culture with a rhythm that exudes a certain swagger. The repetition of “When I say I love us” at the beginning of each stanza builds as if the reader is beginning to shout about the love they have for Black people and Black culture. The last line “I mean I love the love that is us” is such a fun line to read and full of love.  

The collection includes poems dedicated to Renisha McBride, Michelle Obama, and a beautiful poem titled “A Pantoum for Breonna Taylor”. All three poems share the injustice these three women experienced and also celebrates who they are (Obama) and memorializes what we lost with McBride and Taylor. 

All in all, this is a lovely collection of poems and as I was reading I was thinking of a few Black girls who could find inspiration from Watson’s poetry. These poems are beautifully written and are the perfect antidote to a world that tries to bring Black girls down. 

Oh! I almost forgot to about the artwork. Since I had a ARC of the collection my artwork was in black and white but I’ve seen a few pictures to know that the Ekua Holmes artwork is stunning. It is full of color that captures all aspects of Black girl and womanhood and accentuate each of the poems. The collaboration makes for an excellent book that any Black girl (or former girl) should add to their collection.