“Another world’s accomplishment was done and finished, and as in the past, from the beginning of history, wherever the world’s work was done by a white man, he had been accompanied by a colored man.” page 136
A Negro Explorer at the North Pole by Matthew Henson, forward by Matthew E. Peary and introduction by Booker T. Washington.
Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York, 1912.
Available online at www.gutenberg.org/files/20923/20923-h/20923-h.htm
Accessed in September 2017.
Nonfiction, 200 pages.
Matthew Henson was the black man who accompanied Peary on most of his expeditions, including to the North Pole. He received scant notice from the white people of the time, but his life story was very much in demand among African-Americans. Eventually he used his journals from the trip to write this book.
The book is a curious mix of direct entries from Henson’s journals, summations of journal entries, and his direct writing covering periods of time when he couldn’t write or adding information he felt was helpful.
Racism is very present in this book. For the most part, this is overt, although it does come out more blatantly. There are two main forms of racism present – against African-Americans, and against Native Americans.
Ida Mae Jones just wants to fly. But her mother’s dead set against her even going North to get her pilot’s license. So using her light skin color to join the WASP shouldn’t even be an option, but Ida will do anything to get in the air and help her military brother.
Those of you who have been reading for a while will recall that I’m pretty tough on historical fiction. I want it to be inclusive of diverse characters and perspectives, but also realistic. (A character might be targeted with hateful language, but the author should also make clear that those words are wrong.) Depending on the grade level, I’d also like it to be appropriate for the age recommended, not too graphic nor too idealistic for young readers. And, of course, it should be well written and have an interesting plot and intriguing characters.
I’m happy to share that Flygirl succeeds on every count.
“Still I do not believe that traders in slaves are born worse than other men. It is the slave trade and the greed it brings that hardens men’s minds and kills their capacity for kindness.” page 81
The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano, adapted by Ann Cameron. (With an introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.)
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1995. My edition reprinted, Yearling, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2005.
Lexile: 840L .
AR Level: 5.7 (worth 4.0 points) .
Olaudah Equiano was an African prince from Benin who was kidnapped and sold into slavery, in which condition he traveled widely and had many different experiences. Ann Cameron abridged and adapted this book for young, modern readers.
Although this book has a great deal of adventure, the prologue is more of a moral lesson, and in the first chapter Olaudah describes home life during his early years. For this reason, I’d recommend getting through the first bit quickly to hook kids into the narrative. If you are in a library or another setting where you can’t, then tell the kids about Olaudah’s life so they stay interested.
After chapter two, the pace increases. Cameron breaks the narrative up into short, topical chapters. Some reviews complained about the narrative ending before Olaudah’s book finished, but the afterword summarizes the rest of his life.
Major Taylor became the World Champion of cycling in the early 1900s. He combined perseverance, an incredible athleticism, and a little luck to set world records and popularize the sport of bicycling in America. Yet his story is largely unknown today.
“Mrs. Hilliard had to tell her that slave catchers had come from Georgia and that she and William had been right to be suspicious.” page 65
Two Tickets to Freedom: The True Story of William and Ellen Craft, Fugitive Slaves by Florence B. Freedman, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats.
My edition Scholastic, New York, 1995. Orig. pub. Simon & Schuster, 1971.
Nonfiction, 96 pages.
Lexile: 1030L .
AR Level: 6.8 (worth 3.0 points) .
This book tells the life story of husband and wife William and Ellen Craft, best known for their famous escape from slavery.
In case you are not familiar with this couple, William was a skilled tradesman whose entire family was separated by slavery. Ellen was given to her sister as a wedding present from her father’s wife. They had better lives than many slaves – Ellen was a house servant with comparatively light duties, William was allowed to do extra work and earn his own money, and their owners permitted them to live together in a common-law marriage (it was not legal for slaves to complete a religious or civil marriage ceremony).
However, both deplored the condition of slavery, and they decided not to have children as slaves. One day, William came up with an idea. Ellen was light-skinned and could easily pass for white. They had money from William’s extra work. Ellen would disguise herself as a young man (since a white woman would never travel alone with a male slave) and William as her slave.
It’s a fascinating story, and I’m often surprised that it isn’t better known. We read a book about it (that also includes a reader’s theater) back during the 30 day project., so I was excited to learn more. The kids kept asking what happened next, and the picture book only gave a page of text to tell what happened in the next part of their life.
“All those laws against segregation have been passed, and all that progress has been made. But a whole lot of white people’s hearts have not been changed.” page 187
Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks, with Jim Haskins.
Puffin, Penguin Group, New York, 1992 (my edition 1999).
Middle grade autobiography, 192 pages including index and timeline.
Lexile: 970L .
AR Level: 6.2 (worth 6.0 points) .
This is Rosa Parks’ own telling of her story – the story of her life, and the story of that fateful day when she became the icon of a movement.
Some books are ubiquitous – this is one of those books. As far as I can recall, every school library I’ve been in has this book, though I haven’t checked them all. However, I’d never read it before, so when we saw a cheap copy at the used bookstore, we bought it.
I have no regrets about adding this to our collection. While the book is accessible to children, it works as a quick adult read too!
William Wells Brown is an author with prolific and varied output. He’s written a novel, collection of hymns, memoir, travelogue, and the 1874 book Painter cites, titled The Rising Son; or, the Antecedents and Achievements of the Colored Race. I have yet to find that one online but am sure it must exist.
Aside from those new-to-me reads, this book also got me thinking about the concept of whiteness. Not just racially, but also in art (since race and art can intersect beyond literature).