BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me (Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition) by Maya Angelou, illustrated by Jean-Michel Basquiat, edited by Sara Jane Boyers [in Shelf Awareness]

Monsters under the bed, specters hiding in closets, demons just outside the door seem to afflict – and limit – every child at some point in their young lives. But what if those “Shadows on the wall / Noises down the hall” could be confronted … and even banished? What if an incantation as easy as “Life doesn’t frighten me at all” was enough to encourage and enable resolute audacity?

Presented as an impassioned ode to courage, the late poet Dr. Maya Angelou’s 1993 poem returns in a handsome 25th-anniversary edition to inspire a new generation of brave readers. No matter the challenge –”Bad dogs,” “Big ghosts,” “Mean old Mother Goose,” “Dragons breathing flame” – fear will not win: “I go boo / Make them shoo / I make fun / Way they run… / Life doesn’t frighten me at all.” Angelou faces down panthers and strangers, bullies and snakes with “magic charm” that gives her the power to do the impossible: to “walk the ocean floor / And never have to breathe.” Despite screams and dreams, “Life doesn’t frighten me at all / Not at all / Not at all.”

Born in 1928, Angelou knew firsthand about fear, especially as a child: she endured family separations, was raped as a young child, and persevered through the insidious racism of the Jim Crow American South. Nurtured especially by her paternal grandmother who further emboldened her with great literature, Angelou reached legendary status as a writer, teacher, and activist. Then, and perhaps even more now, Life Doesn’t Frighten Me bears witness to her persistence, a rousing homage to potential and tenacity.

Writer/photographer Sara Jane Boyers, who conceived this now-iconic project, found the ideal complement to Angelou’s intrepid stanzas in the exquisite canvases of the late Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose wild-child free spirit imbued his creations. His art, writes Boyers, “depicts the world as he perceived it: diverse, funny, raucous, poetic, and potentially scary – but always real.” His raw, can’t-turn-away compositions echo the broad-stroked candidness of youthful drawings, creating an ideally empathic invitation to younger readers.

In her afterword, Boyers explains that “[p]airing [Angelou and Basquiat’s] work here created a new story for them – a new story for each of us – and it invites us to pen our own stories, on our own terms.” Without fear, Angelou and Basquiat in verses and paintings, prove anything is possible. The result is timelessly inclusive, a gift of “hope, understanding, and resolve to be us, together.” Because together, life indeed, won’t frighten us at all.

Shelf Talker: The 25th-anniversary edition of Maya Angelou and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Life Doesn’t Frighten Me will surely inspire new generations of fearless thinkers and courageous creators.

Review: “Children’s Review,” Shelf Awareness Pro, January 3, 2018

Readers: Children

Published: 1993, 2018 (anniversary edition)


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