Ida B. Wells: Let the Truth Be Told by Walter Dean Meyers, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen.
Amistad Imprint, HarperCollins, New York, 2008.
Picture book biography, 37 pages including timeline and quotes.
Lexile: AD900L (What does AD mean in Lexile?)
AR Level: 5.4 (worth 0.5 points)
Ida B. Wells stood up for truth and justice with her words and actions, and foreshadowed the civil rights movement in many of her actions. With an illustration at least every other page, and excellent explanations of difficult topics such as lynchings, this book makes Wells’ life accessible to middle grade readers, and could even be read to some younger children with a parent.
Finally! I have been trying to read Walter Dean Meyers for some time now because he is so popular, but had yet to find a book of his that I really like. Still, I ordered this book (in hardcover even) because I know that Ida B. Wells would be a great role model for the girls and finally found a WDM book that I can wholeheartedly recommend. Walter Dean Meyers is an #ownvoice although the illustrator is a white woman.
The only difficulty I am having now is who the audience would be. This picture book is too wordy for a group read-aloud with multiple paragraphs on some pages. It’s a little high for independent reading – second or third graders would struggle to read this alone. And it’s a little low to classify in the middle grade books.
One area where Ida B. Wells worked for justice was advocating for an end to lynchings in the South. The text addresses this, and one page shows a noose hanging from a tree. This is another reason that this book is not a good choice for the youngest readers. For example, I would check it out to fourth grade and up without a problem, but would never read this aloud to my kindergarten students. Because I wouldn’t want any of my littlest students checking this book out without a conversation about it, if this book were in our school library, I would catalog it into the middle grade non-fiction even though the format is more indicative of a traditional picture book.
For the most part, I loved the illustrations, which were bold, fit well with the text, caught the reader’s attention, and dramatically conveyed various points in the book. There was one which was a little off, on page 28 the illustration, which is clearly supposed to be Ida B. Wells, looks white, particularly compared to previous pages. I think that it’s intended to be the light from the lamp changing the colors in the room, but it gave me pause and confused the kids.
A subtle point about these illustrations is that they were not done in a childish style, although they would certainly appeal to younger kids. This allows the book to still appeal to the 4th-7th graders that I think are the main intended audience.
The cover was a bit of a turn-off. I think the intention was to set it up to look like a newspaper, but it really didn’t work. Honestly if I had seen another children’s book on Wells, I wouldn’t have gotten this one. But the interior art is much better. In some cases there is a page with text and the opposite page has the artwork, while other two-page spreads have artwork throughout and the text is incorporated into the artwork.
An aspect of this book that I really loved is that this book relies on Wells’ own words and even provides a double page spread of quotes at the end of the book. Unlike the biography of Sojourner Truth I disliked, this one very clearly distinguishes the quotes from the rest of the text – they have a different font and are in another color, and the source for each one is cited in a small line of text under the quote. This is so helpful for students to distinguish from dialogue quoted within the story and quotes from some of the many historical writings of Ida B. Wells.
The timeline at the end is very clear and gives a nice overview of her life. Wells was a courageous, determined, and intelligent woman. She stood up for what she felt was right at tremendous personal cost. Orphaned at 16, she provided for her four surviving siblings by becoming a teacher. She resisted segregated seating on the train and when she was forcibly removed, sued the train company and won! She became a newspaper writer and owner, organized a boycott, and spoke out against lynching despite great personal dangers.
Then she once again stood up for herself by deciding to get married and raise a family, contrary to the advice of her colleagues in the women’s movement. She didn’t stop fighting for justice, however, then turning her mind to school desegregation and desegregating the women’s movement itself.
Ida B. Wells is an inspiring figure for all children, but an especially powerful mirror for young African-American girls. I strongly recommend this book, and will be looking for more of Meyer’s picture books, based on how well this book resonated with me and my family.