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

Published on February 15, 2023

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The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, and Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore

By Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Reviewed by Elizabeth DeVincenzo


This historical fiction picture book introduces readers to the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem, NYC.  Founded by Lewis Henri Michaux, a man with little formal education, in the 1930s, this book is told from the imagined perspective of his son, Lewis Michaux Jr., who was a young boy during the store’s peak years.  Lewis Jr. relates how his father was denied a bank loan to open a bookstore.  The banker told him he could have a loan to sell fish or fried chicken, but not books, because he believed black people didn’t read.  Lewis Sr. knew otherwise and did odd jobs such as washing windows to save money to open his bookstore. The store grew and grew with books and customers.  Customers were also allowed to stay in the store as long as they liked without purchasing books. People also came for discussions about civil rights and politics. Lewis Jr. describes the excitement of meeting notable African- Americans in the store such as Muhammed Ali and Malcolm X, who was a close friend of his father’s.  He describes the political rallies that Malcolm X held in front of the store. Christie’s bold and vibrant illustrations capture the energy of the time and place.     A short biography of Lewis Henry Michaux is included along with an author’s note (Lewis Sr. was her great-uncle), and a selected bibliography.  Lewis Jr. was a primary source when writing this book. Essential reading for Black History Month along with Nelson’s No Crystal Stair, a novel about Michaux Sr. for middle-school children.

Favorite quotes: “Books will help him clear the weeds and plant the seeds so he’ll succeed.”- Lewis Henri Michaux Sr. commenting on a customer who would read in the store every Saturday.

Target Age group:  Ages 7-10

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award 2016

Kirkus Reviews 09/15/2015 - *Starred Review

Booklist 10/01/2015- *Starred Review


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