Arturo Schomburg’s Book Hunting Disease

Lynn: I wish I could have known Arturo Schomburg. Not only was he passionate about his research, tireless in his efforts to locate information, and relentless in his pursuit of dismissed history, but he strove to give children something he never had: the knowledge of what people with African roots had given to the world. Happily, Carole Boston Weatherford brings to readers Schomburg’s inspiring spirit in Schomburg: the Man Who Built a Library (2017).

Schomburg carried a spark within him when he immigrated from Puerto Rico to New York City in 1891. Because his school records were destroyed in a fire, Schomburg was unable to pursue his dream of law or medicine and went to work as a clerk. However, his curiosity about Africana persisted, as did what he called his “book hunting disease,” which kept him searching libraries, haunting rare bookstores, and accumulating knowledge of the history of his people, along with books, pamphlets, papers, and poems.

Schomburg: the man who built a library by Carole Boston Weatherford

Son Fernando described his father as “busy, always busy. He traveled, lectured, wrote, presided over committees and groups, continuously researched, read and shared his findings. In 1926, the Carnegie Corporation bought his “matchless” collection and donated it to the New York Public Library, where it became the foundation of the Division of Negro History, Literature, and Prints. A first-edition volume of poems by Phillis Wheatley, handwritten poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar, letters from Toussaint Louverture, and speeches from Frederick Douglass are just a few of its treasures. Arturo Schomburg continued his work for the remainder of his life and championed the preservation of untold priceless items. Most importantly, he rescued the history of a people.

Weatherford has deftly woven some of this history into her free verse biography, introducing young readers to a dazzling array of black historical figures whose important contributions shaped our world. Some of the figures are quite familiar, including John James Audubon and Alexandre Dumas, not known during their lives to be of African descent. As Schomburg noted, “When genius was black, skin color was left out.”

Eric Velasquez’s large and beautiful oil-on-watercolor illustrations add both richness and liveliness. I’m especially fond of the scene showing Schomburg brandishing a piece of paper at his wife in front of rows and rows of books. Apparently, she had attempted to straighten his desk! (I’ve had that very same interaction with my spouse about the books I have stacked around my house.) Back matter includes a timeline, source notes, and a bibliography. I’m just wondering: Do you suppose my collection of vintage adult science fiction and children’s picture books would be of interest to the Carnegie Corporation?

Cindy: Bonus: visit Today’s Little Ditty for a recent interview with Carole Boston Weatherford that includes many extra images and details about the writing of this book, as well as some of her other award-winning titles—including her first poem, which she wrote in first grade! If I were going to have a grave marker, I might copy Schomburg’s simple epitaph: “Bibliophile.” Take a look!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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