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

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore
Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, Written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Publisher’s Summary:
In the 1930s, Lewis’s dad, Lewis Michaux Sr., had an itch he needed to scratch–a book itch. How to scratch it? He started a bookstore in Harlem and named it the National Memorial African Bookstore. And as far as Lewis Michaux Jr. could tell, his father’s bookstore was one of a kind. People from all over came to visit the store, even famous people–Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, and Langston Hughes, to name a few. In his father’s bookstore, people bought and read books, and they also learned from each other. People swapped and traded ideas and talked about how things could change. They came together here all because of his father’s book itch. Read the story of how Lewis Michaux Sr. and his bookstore fostered new ideas and helped people stand up for what they believed in.

Primary Source Pairing:
Harlem was bustling with life, diversity, and vibrancy during the 1930s and 1940s when Lewis Henri Michaux opened the National Memorial African Bookstore. In addition to the two primary source images in the back of the book, invite students to take a slow look at an image of the front of the bookstore in 1961 and another image of the nearby Apollo Theater in the late 1940s. Let these images begin a discussion about that time period and how Michaux’s bookstore contributed to the culture of Harlem.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Describe what you see.
  • What do you notice first?
  • What people and objects are shown?
  • How are they arranged?
  • What is the physical setting?
  • What, if any, words do you see?
  • What other details can you see?
  • Why do you think this image was made?
  • What’s happening in the image?
  • When do you think it was made?
  • What can you learn from examining this image?
  • If someone took a photograph of these locations today, what would be different?
  • What would be the same?

Book Cover and Summary: Follett
Bookstore Image:
Apollo Theater Image: Library of Congress

Related Primary Source Pairing:
No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller