Abe’s Honest Words

Abe's Honest Words

There are over 15,000 books about Abraham Lincoln.

So, is there anything left that hasn’t already been said?

Probably not. But his is a story that bears repeating to the next generation.

From the cover to the story, Abe’s Honest Words is graphically and textually set up like Martin’s Big Words.

Doreen Rappapor chose to make this picture book about Lincoln’s quest to end slavery. She takes us from his formative years through his presidency to his assassination, with quotes from the legend interspersed. It’s sad and moving, but Kadir Nelson‘s impeccable illustrations offer a less somber tone than Martin’s Big Words.

With so many books on Lincoln it’s about time that a fitting story for young readers hit the market. Lincoln was (and is) too important in the US to be relegated to the picture book cheap seats!


They Called Her Moses

Moses - When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom

I taught for years when there wasn’t a suitable picture book tribute to Harriet Tubman.  Now that I have it, I’m not sure I can use it in school.

Harriet is one of those historic figures that trouble publishers. They could (and some do) tell her story without the spiritual aspects. But scrubbing her free of this side of her identity is like pretending Martin Luther King Jr. was not a reverend.  It’s just not honest to the historic record.

Carole Boston Weatherford does not make this mistake with Moses. Instead she makes Harriet’s spirituality the center of the story of her escape from slavery.  Thus, much of the book is a conversation with God; and perhaps this is just how Harriet would have had it.

I like this book, in part because Kadir Nelson‘s illustrations are nothing shy of amazing, but also because Harriet’s struggle to escape is so compelling. However, I’m not sure that I can use it in school with young students. The intersection of spirituality and public schools is awkward at best, and becomes a lighting rod at worst.

This year I’m going to pass  on Moses: probably like many publishers did. But, for an older audience, this would absolutely work; and this is certainly fair game for the private school and homeschool crowds.

A Slave Named Dave

Dave the Potter

The historic record doesn’t tell us much about Dave: which is not uncommon for those whose rights are trampled in the name of profit. What little we do know comes largely from the poems he wrote on the pottery he created: both of which make Dave remarkable.

I like this book. But, I almost panned it because it’s not  representative of the overwhelming majority of the historic American slave experience. Laban Carrick Hill leans heavily toward the romanticized side of slavery to tell the story of Dave’s extraordinary gifts. Thus his owner – and any signs of oppression – are completely absent.  However, because I’m balancing this account with other books depicting the horrors of slavery, Dave the Potter has a place in my classroom. But it couldn’t possibly stand alone.

As is often the case with Bryan Collier‘s work, his moving, well-researched illustrations alone were enough to make this book worth my time.

Under the Quilt of Night

Under the Quilt of Night

If you told me, “Hey! Check this out! I’ve got an awesome POETIC picture book on the underground railroad!” My reaction would be something like, “Hmm, you want me to bore my students death?!”

Don’t get me wrong. I legitimately enjoy poetry. As in, I’ve written a couple hundred poems. But few authors seem capable of producing poems that work well in the picture book market. Call me a doubter… because I am.

But forget about that for now; because Deborah Hopkinson and James E. Ransome delivered the exception to the rule. Under the Quilt of Night is historical fiction told from the perspective of a young girl as her family escapes slavery on the Underground Railroad.

Hopkinson and Ransome give us a sense of real danger as “the master” peruses her family with hounds and guns. But they balance this looming threat with the kindness of strangers, as good prevails and the family finds their way into the arms of freedom.

“My Daddy is in prison”

Knock Knock

For each child who has been forced to endure the emptiness and humiliation of this shattered dream, Daniel Beaty has a  message of hope.

You see, he has been there; and risen above the ashes of bitterness and shame. So he would know; and tell it like it is.

For the record: Beaty originally conceived Knock Knock as spoken word. He performed it (below) for Def Jam Poetry. Paired to Bryan Collier’s signature illustrations, this books packs emotional punch.

My favorite line (that didn’t make it into the book), “Yes we are our father’s sons and daughters; but we are not their choices.

Lyles Station

A Place Called Freedom

Lyles Station Indiana was a small African American settlement in southern Indiana founded by freed slave Joshua Lyles. Told in the words of his son, A Place Called Freedom is historical fiction based on Joshua’s story of journeying to and starting Lyles Station.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and absolutely recommend it because it captures the essence of both the underground railroad and the Lyles Station story. But I was hoping Scott Russell Sanders would have not embellished the story quite so much. It’s a fault I’m almost willing to overlook.

Honoring The Greensboro Four


On February 1, 1960 four Black friends took Martin Luther King‘s, “We must meet hate with love” to Woolworth’s “WHITE ONLY” lunch counter.

Thus ignited the spark that set off sit-ins in over 60 cities. Six months later, the Woolworth’s lunch counter was desegregated.

Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney masterfully deliver the story of the Greensboro North Carolina sit in with a sprinkling of quotes from King and illustrations worthy of this pivotal moment in US history.

This seemed like a timely selection with Black History Month right around the corner and the passing of Franklin McCain: one of the four friends who started the sit in.