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Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington

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Booker T. Washington is not an unsung hero; there are many books on his life, legacy, and dreams. However, after reading author Jabari Asim’s new book, Fifty Cents and A dream: Young Booker T. Washington, it is easy to see that there are still many things to learn.

Suitable for children from pre-k through the middle grades--and adults of any age--Fifty Cents and a Dream offers readers a fresh angle on Washington’s life from a picture book perspective.

Using illustrator Bryan Collier’s deep, earth-rich colors and expressive, oversized sketches, Asim offers a unique portrait of a young, hope-filled Washington as a slave who “longed to play, run, jump--and more than anything else--to read.”

Early pages show Washington gazing longingly at the school books he carries as he walks his master’s daughter to school. Another page shows Washington peeking in the classroom window and imagining himself learning to read like the white students.

Later pages depict life after freedom comes, when Washington works at a salt furnace, drills thousands of feet underground for coal and performs other backbreaking labor that really should be reserved for older men. Readers also witness, in the form of illustrations, Washington facing hunger and living on the dark, cold, cobble-stoned streets as he walks—yes, walks!--nearly five hundred miles to get to a unique boarding school for Negroes.

This is such a lovely book. The subject matter is often somber and heartbreaking, yet each illustration somehow manages to shine like a celebration of life. The text is factual and precise, yet Asim’s prose still exudes enough warmth to make readers root for Washington’s ultimate success.

Asim’s attention to detail spills over nicely into the indices, with an author’s note at the end of the book that details both his early memories of Washington, and the subtle way in which Washington’s legacy went from favorable to negative. There is also a generous illustrator’s note explaining the inspiration for the sketches, and a bibliography for teachers and researchers.

This book should fare well in any history, social studies, reading or art classroom, and would, of course, make an outstanding addition to any historian’s personal library.

Best wishes and happy reading,
Rita Lorraine

This book review originally posted at this link - http://picturebookdepot.com/Multicultural-detail/fifty-cents-and-a-dream-young-booker-t-washington/

The Granddaughter Necklace

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Black History Month is upon us again, and as always, many wonderful picture books are making their debut. The Granddaughter Necklace, by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, is one of those books.

The Granddaughter Necklace opens to a stunning illustration; a dark stretch of water set against a burnt orange sunset that seems to go on forever, and the silhouette of a lone female gazing out over the ocean from a ship’s protective guard rails. This is the reader’s introduction to a young Irish girl named Frances who, with hope in her heart and a glittering necklace in her hand, is on her way to make a new life in America.

From there, the reader is whisked to the present and a fair-skinned, wide-eyed African American girl chatting with her mother about the sparkling necklace she is wearing. The mother then shares the tale--in reverse order--of how the beautiful necklace made its way from Ireland to America, and down through the generations until it reached this mother and this child.

The reader learns how the girl's mother received the necklace as a gift on the night of her school play, when she was very young. In turn, her grandmother (her mother's mother), who lived in a shack with more than a dozen brothers and sisters, received it on the day she went to live with an aunt. And the grandmother’s mother received it after she burned her little hand helping to wash laundry in a bubbling cauldron.

Back and back this story goes, until it reconnects with the girl named Frances who left Ireland in the mid-1800's and married a free man of color in the United States.

This is a quiet and thoughtful book that is all about belonging, family, and the enduring strength of women. Ms. Wyeth’s prose is cozy and encouraging, and artist Bagram Ibatoulline’s realistic illustrations are bursting with warm colors and the sweet strength of generations of strong women who have proudly served as examples for their blossoming daughters.

Aside from being the perfect gift for the African American history lover, this book is also a great gift for a new mother, and even an elderly mother. It is great as a story-starter about what life was like for women in the “olden” days, and it might also be used to inspire a discussion about the traditional roles women play, and the importance of mothers in the family. Parents might also use it as a starting point for establishing their own family traditions.

Whatever it is used for, family members of all ages are sure to enjoy it.

Best wishes and happy reading,

Rita Lorraine

This book review originally posted at this link - http://picturebookdepot.com/Multicultural-detail/the-granddaughter-necklace/

Lullaby (For a Black Mother)

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Most lullaby books focus on the baby’s pleasure as its mother gazes into its eyes and sings a sleepy-time song. But in Lullaby (For a Black Mother), the late poet and novelist Langston Hughes focuses on one mother’s sweet pleasure as she wracks her brain for the perfect words to express her love for her child.

It is evening, and the city lights shine through baby’s nursery window. A dark-skinned woman cradles her dark-skinned baby and asks, “My little dark baby, My little earth-thing, What shall I sing for your lullaby?”

The baby watches with adoring eyes as its mother speaks of making him a necklace of stars as he floats on the wind and points at the diamond moon.

As she composes her original lullaby, both mother and baby imagine all sorts of beautiful scenes: Sitting on a night cloud in the evening sky; Mother blowing kisses that become sparkly stars as they reach the baby’s face; and finally, Mother lulling baby to sleep in a rocking chair in the clouds.

This is a quiet and calming book with almost haunting overtones. Artist Sean Qualls’ illustrations have a vintage, almost Americana feel, and are all done in “bedtime” colors of purple, sunset orange, dark blue, and soft tan. They are, in short, a beauty to behold.

Lullaby (For a Black Mother) targets ages 4 to 8, which may be a bit of a stretch, because lullabies may not hold the interest of 7 and 8 year olds. However, the late Mr. Hughes’ text is sweet and soothing, and the reader will have no problem recognizing the keen love between mother and child.

Best wishes and happy singing,

Rita Lorraine

This book review originally posted at this link - http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/lullaby-black-mother

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