Breaking to the Beat!

By The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

In the 1970s, when people “said the Bronx was nothing but rubble,” Manolo, a young Puerto Rican boy, immersed himself in the rich music that saturated his neighborhood. Eventually finding his passion among the b-boys and b-girls, dancing “with a mix of splits, twists, and shuffles,” he honed his breaking skills and joined a neighborhood crew. In the 1980s, Henry Chalfant, a photographer on the Hip-Hop scene, pushed breaking into the mainstream; soon Manolo—now known as Kid Flex—and his crew were crushing it around the globe, but Manolo still held true to the music of his home in “the Boogie Down Bronx. The place where Hip-Hop rose from the rubble.” While Chalfant was a real photographer, Acevedo explains in an afterword that Manolo and his crew are fictional characters based on a number of real dancers from the 1970s and ’80s. Acevedo’s text is undeniably energetic and rhythmic, easily pulling on the dynamism of its subject, and it also manages to be informative while maintaining a peppy pace (“B stands for BREAK, the part of a song where the drum flies solo. The neighborhood kids didn’t know it then but something new was rising—HIP-HOP!”). Morrison’s art is masterful, with acrylics washing over the double-page spreads, effortlessly capturing the intensity and talent of the dance crews, populated with slick, sinewy figures in gravity-defying moves. That zeal falls against a background of decrepit buildings, busted fences, and patrolling police, giving a fuller picture of the rise of breaking amidst a then-broken community. A dazzling mix of spirited text and striking illustrations, this beautifully evokes a time period and the art it gave rise to.