The only thing better than discovering the story of unsung hero is getting to cheer her along as she achieves her dream. And that’s what happens in author Vivian Kirkfield’s inspiring 2019 picture book title, Sweet Dreams, Sarah.
In the opening pages, young Sarah is enslaved and spends her days working for her owner. In spite of her condition, Sarah still has her dreams. She dreams of marrying, having a family — and inventing something! After all, her father is a carpenter who creates beautiful things with his hands. Sarah dreams of creating something beautiful and useful too.
One day, the Civil War brings slavery to an end and Emancipation Proclamation goes into effect. Because enslaved people are set free, Sarah can pursue her dreams. She moves to Chicago, and one-by-one, her dreams come true: she marries a kind man, they bring their first child into the world, and later, Sarah buys a furniture store and begins making furniture. She listens carefully to her customers, creating a sort of “wish list” from their needs. Then she works on her ultimate creation: a bed that folds up when not being used. There are a few hits and misses as Sarah tweaks her invention, and then a few breathtaking moments as she waits to find out whether the patent she has applied for will finally be granted. It is!
Sweet Dreams, Sara is such an inspiration. Although slavery is an institution of the past, young children will still find themselves inspired by Sarah’s rise from slave to free inventor. Children get to follow along with Sarah as she saves her money, draws up the blueprint for her bed, and patiently tweaks her invention until she reaches her goal.
Ms. Kirfield’s prose brims with hope, determination and the MC’s deep desire to use her talent to create something useful with her own hands. Artist Chris Ewald uses dark, stark rooms and deep purples to depict slavery days; and bright red brick buildings and the rich honey-brown of solid wood furniture during Sarah’s creative period as a freed woman on a mission to create.
Use this book to jump-start a conversation on slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Northern Migration (Sarah moved to Chicago), vocational occupations, and/or the history and usefulness of patents.