An unforgettable story that needs to be known.

STEAMBOAT SCHOOL

A passion for education and freedom brings subversive ingenuity to life in 1847 St. Louis.

James’ mother scrubs his face clean for his first day of “Tallow Candle School” in the basement of Rev. John’s church. Though initially resistant, once James realizes that Rev. John teaches children to read, he goes eagerly. “We make our own light here,” the preacher tells him. Hopkinson reveals John Barry Meachum’s true history through the stories he tells the children of being born a slave (in 1789 in Virginia) and working in the saltpeter mines to purchase his own freedom and that of both parents, then walking hundreds of miles to liberate his wife. (The backmatter also reveals that Meachum bought and freed several other slaves.) When the police burst into the school to inform Rev. John that Missouri has passed a law forbidding blacks, slave or free, to read, he stops teaching temporarily. With James’ help, he uses his carpentry skills to build a steamboat on the Mississippi—federal property—in which his students can learn freely. This fascinating story, illustrated in pen and ink with a color palette of browns and blacks with occasional pops of blue and red, draws readers into the historical era effectively and emphasizes what a privilege literacy was for African-Americans in the 19th century.

An unforgettable story that needs to be known. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4231-2196-1

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Disney-Jump at the Sun

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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A life devoted to freedom and dignity, worthy of praise and remembrance.

MUMBET'S DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

With the words of Massachusetts colonial rebels ringing in her ears, a slave determines to win her freedom.

In 1780, Mumbet heard the words of the new Massachusetts constitution, including its declaration of freedom and equality. With the help of a young lawyer, she went to court and the following year, won her freedom, becoming Elizabeth Freeman. Slavery was declared illegal and subsequently outlawed in the state. Woelfle writes with fervor as she describes Mumbet’s life in the household of John Ashley, a rich landowner and businessman who hosted protest meetings against British taxation. His wife was abrasive and abusive, striking out with a coal shovel at a young girl, possibly Mumbet’s daughter. Mumbet deflected the blow and regarded the wound as “her badge of bravery.” Ironically, the lawyer who took her case, Theodore Sedgwick, had attended John Ashley’s meetings. Delinois’ full-bleed paintings are heroic in scale, richly textured and vibrant. Typography becomes part of the page design as the font increases when the text mentions freedom. Another slave in the Ashley household was named in the court case, but Woelfle, keeping her young audience in mind, keeps it simple, wisely focusing on Mumbet.

A life devoted to freedom and dignity, worthy of praise and remembrance. (author’s note, selected bibliography, further reading) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7613-6589-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Carolrhoda

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2013

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This reimagined telling has an engaging charm that rings true.

KAFKA AND THE DOLL

An imagining of an unlikely real-life episode in the life of absurdist Franz Kafka.

Theule follows the outline of the account: When Kafka meets an unhappy girl in a Berlin park in 1923 and learns her doll is lost, Kafka writes a series of letters from Soupsy, the doll, to Irma, the girl. The real letters and the girl’s identity have been lost to history; the invented letters describe a dazzling variety of adventures for Soupsy. Unfortunately, as the letters increase in excitement, Kafka’s health declines (he would die of tuberculosis in June 1924), and he must find a way to end Soupsy’s adventures in a positive way. In an author’s note, readers learn that Kafka chose to write that Soupsy was getting married. Theule instead opts to send the doll on an Antarctic expedition. Irma gets the message that she can do anything, and the final image shows her riding a camel, a copy of Metamorphosis peeking from a satchel. While kids may not care about Kafka, the short relationship between the writer and the little girl will keep their interest. Realizing that an adult can care so much about a child met in the park is empowering. The stylized illustrations, especially those set in the chilly Berlin fall, resemble woodcuts with a German expressionist look. The doll’s adventures look a little sweeter, with more red and blue added to the brown palette of the German scenes. (This book was reviewed digitally with 10.5-by-17-inch double-page spreads viewed at 23% of actual size.)

This reimagined telling has an engaging charm that rings true. (biographical note, bibliography) (Picture book. 5-7)

Pub Date: March 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-11632-6

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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